Photo by Jim Blaylock
Lakeside High School's Toya Coard doesn't need to wear her heart on her sleeve. Her passion is simply stated by a shiny necklace adorned with a basketball gliding into a golden hoop.
"A friend gave that to me for Christmas, because he knows basketball is a big part of my life," Coard said. "I wear that charm because most of the time I have on some sort of basketball attire. I dress up when necessary, but other than that, I'm comfortable."
When Coard dons her Lakeside uniform, she really gets in a comfort zone.
"I feel no pressure when I step out on the court. You should be comfortable and know what you need to do. I'm 100-percent game face. I'm like, 'Bring it on!"'
The senior guard has brought it on this season. Coard is averaging 21 points per game, has posted double-digit scoring in the first 12 games, and led Lakeside to a title in the Columbia County Christmas Tournament.
Coard capped the holiday event with a shooting performance for the ages, hitting seven 3-point shots in the first half of the championship game.
For Coard, life wasn't always as easy as draining 3-pointers. She grew up in Longside, N.J., where she was raised by her mother Cotina.
The mean streets were beckoning, but Coard choose the right road.
"Basketball was really big in New Jersey, because if you weren't into sports, most kids were into drugs, or anything else that wasn't the right thing," she said. "Sports kept me focused on schoolwork, and other goals in my life."
Coard moved to Columbia County before her freshman year, and the change has been beneficialfor her and the Lady Panthers.
The four-year starter at Lakeside hopes her court skills will earn her a spot on a college team, and after furthering her education, she plans to try her hardest to play at the professional level.
As she moves up the ladder, Coard will give credit where it's due.
"God is most definitely the head of my life. I thank God for my ability, and ask him to continue letting me play well," she says. "Without Him you can't do anything, so I thank Him always, in front of anybody."
Maybe faith helps explain why the diminutive player nicknamed "Tiny T" is so tough.
"I've been hit and battered, but as my AAU coach says, you can't be soft when you're playing a contact sport," Coard said. "There are some big people out there who can't do half as much as I do."
Despite her obvious talents, Coard admits she couldn't do half as much without help from her Lakeside teammates. Together, Coard and the Lady Panthers might reach their ultimate goal this season.
"I love my team, and we're doing really well, so I'm looking for that spot in the state playoffs."
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