Feyonda Fitzgerald’s success started 275 miles down the coast.
The sophomore shooting guard from Norfolk, Virginia set a state-tournament record by scoring 96 points through three games in her senior year at Lake Taylor High School. The team lost one game that season, when Princess Anne High School defeated Fitzgerald’s Lady Titans 55-48 on Feb. 25, 2013.
Two weeks later, Lake Taylor defeated Princess Anne in the state championship, 56-53. Fitzgerald led all scorers with 33 points in the victory.
The success continued into Fitzgerald’s freshman season at Temple, as she led the team with 12.9 points per game and 3.8 assists per game in a rookie year in which she garnered a unanimous American Athletic Conference All-Freshman team selection.
Fitzgerald said a lot of her accomplishments from last year stemmed from her time at Lake Taylor, where winning was the standard.
“I hate losing,” Fitzgerald said. “In high school, we won just about every game and my coach [Saundra Sawyer] used to always push me to do better and be the best I can [be]. … The coaches here push me to do better and be the best I can, so it just carried over.”
Fitzgerald’s current coach, Tonya Cardoza, said it’s important for the sophomore to lead, but not try to do too much after her performance last year.
“With [Fitzgerald, it’s about] taking a little bit of the pressure off of her, and not having her feel like she has to do everything,” Cardoza said. “But she’s definitely someone that we’re looking to be more vocal, and to do things the right way to show the younger guys the way we go about doing things.”
A key part of helping make this leadership role happen will be Fitzgerald’s relationship with point guard Tyonna Williams, who is the only senior on the Owls’ roster this season. The Fort Washington, Maryland native was third on the team in scoring with 9.2 ppg and second in assists tallying 3.0 apg last year.
Fitzgerald and Williams often defend each other in practice, leading to competition that Williams said bodes well for both guards when it’s time to play a game.
“I’m quite sure if you asked Fey who her biggest competitor is, it would be me,” Williams said. “And obviously she’s my biggest competitor in practice. When we’re on the same team, we’re the best of friends, but when we’re competing against each other in practice, we don’t really like each other too much.”
Much of Williams’ and Fitzgerald’s chemistry on the court comes from their complementary styles of play. Fitzgerald’s aggressiveness often allows her to drive into the lane, leaving Williams to hang around the perimeter. Williams led the Owls in 3-point field goals with 50 and was second in 3-point shooting percentage with 31.8 percent last year.
Along with that combination, Cardoza said Fitzgerald’s ability to move and shake defenders off the ball poses a challenge to opposing teams, particularly when Williams plays at the point position.
“[Williams] helped [Fitzgerald] because she didn’t have to have the ball in her hands all the time,” Cardoza said. “Tyonna could take the ball and let Fey play off the basketball.”
“She could talk to her and let her know what’s expected,” Cardoza added. “But more importantly, [it was] just taking pressure off of her, letting her know she’s right there [if] she needs her.”
Last season, the Owls finished 14-16, concluding their season with a 72-44 blowout loss against South Florida in the American Athletic Conference Championship quarterfinals.
Even with all the personal accolades last year, Fitzgerald said her primary focus this season is to take the team to its next step.
“We want to make it to the tournament,” Fitzgerald said. “Basically, [it’s about] doing what we have to do, doing all the little things, doing whatever coach [Cardoza] asks us, and just everybody working hard, putting extra time in the gym. And hopefully, we make it to the NCAA tournament.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @Steve_Bohnel