With a 4-0 record through Thursday, the Eagles are off to their best start in the program’s history as they aim to improve on their 9-17 mark of a year ago.
For coach Willie Richardson, the commitment to improving his players showed during the offseason has made all the difference.
“We’re more focused this year,” Richardson said. “We had a great preseason. Everybody worked hard and made the commitment to get better. The hard work is paying off and it’s great to see that.”
AIS won its first four games in convincing fashion. The Eagles opened the season with a 47-31 victory over Savannah Country Day Nov. 16, then beat Savannah Christian 64-46 Nov. 17, Our Lady of Mercy 60-33 Nov. 27 and Walker 48-28 Nov. 29.
Freshman point guard Nieja Crawford has been a key to Atlanta International’s early success.
She leads the team in scoring with 14 points a game and assists with 10 per contest.
Crawford had 19 points and 12 assists in the victory over Savannah Christian, 17 points and 12 assists in the win over Our Lady of Mercy and 16 points and 10 assists in the Savannah Country Day game.
“Nieja Crawford is a freshman and she does it all for us,” Richardson said. “She’s a freshman and she has her freshman moments, but she’s the coach on the floor.”
Ekua Awotwi has been a major factor as well as the second-leading scorer (13.8 ppg) and is also second in rebounding (12 rpg).
For Awotwi, though, everyone on the team has contributed to the Eagles’ success.
“I think this year, we’re a team where everyone has their own unique job and does it well,” she said. “So, we’re not relying on anyone to do everything. We have rebounders, we have shooters and everybody is doing their job and that’s how we’re winning.”
Sophomore Sophie Al-mutawaly is averaging 9.5 points a game and is the team’s top rebounder at 13.8 per contest, while senior Helen Recaborde (seven ppg, 7.5 rpg) and junior Anna Benkeser (five ppg, 11.5 rpg) are among the other key players.
Atlanta International is playing in Region 5A this season, along with Holy Innocents’, Pace, Galloway and Mount Vernon Presbyterian.
Richardson is confident that his team can maintain its early momentum and make a strong run at a state tournament berth in Class A.
“If we continue to improve and work hard, the sky’s the limit,” he said.