By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Under the guidance of Head Coach Steve Poindexter, the Munford Lady Cougar Basketball program has enjoyed a run of success.
The Lady Cougars have compiled many accolades like a Region 7-3A title, Sub-State appearance and District 13-3A championships.
Players like Robneisha Lee, Lauren Zvolanek, Alex Turner, Shaliyah Wiggins and more have played hugh roles in those accomplishments. Since Poindexter’s tenure at Munford, big games and big name players like Kelsey Briggs and Gabby Crawford have grabbed headlines.
But the veteran coach said players like Phenicia Howard are the ones who make teams champions.
“She went from a girl that nobody really knew who she was, but as time went along she kept working and working,” he recalled. “Her confidence grew. About the time she was a senior she was on everybody’s shouting report.
“Everybody knew who she was,” Poindexter added. “She obviously is a kid willing to do the little things. She sacrifices her body and is willing to slam her body to the floor. She’s always willing to do whatever it takes, not only in a game. She does that in practice as well.”
The hours spent in the gym working on her game and building her body paid off for Howard last month when she signed her national letter of intent to play at Shawnee Commmunity College in Illinois.
“It took a lot of hard work in summers and a lot hard work during breaks,” Howard recalled. “There were no breaks for me.”
Howard made her breaks joining the Lady Cougar program looking to earn time on the floor. By her sophomore season, Howard started to see action for Poindexter among a loaded lineup.
When the Class of 2013 graduated with a Sub-State appearance under its belt, it was time for the younger players to step up.
Along side players like Lindsey Owen, Precious Mills, Alex Wherry, Kierra Richardson and Kierra Webb, Howard earned minutes being in Poindexter’s top six rotation.
Then the injury to Webb forced Howard to take over the role of point guard the rest of her junior season.
There to boost her confidence to take on the role were her parents Danny and Michell.
“Natural born, she gets it from her Dad,” Danny said of her physical ability. “She has a good work ethic in her craft. She spends time in the gym.
“She got a lot of playing time the last two years in high school,” he added. “She was kind of like the leader and floor general. She made things happen on the court. And she should be able to take that onto the next level and grow from there. With a lot more tutelage and training, the sky is the limit.”
The Lady Cougars continued to be one of the best teams in West Tennessee with Howard running the show. She used her upper body strength to drive to the basket.
Addition time in the gym working on her shot made her a better long-range shooter by her senior season.
“She’s a great girl that come from a great family,” Shawnee Head Coach Luke Scheidecker said. “On top of that, she can play. I just got the job at Shawnee Community College in Southern Illinois. I’m looking to rebuild the program. I’m looking for girls like her to come in and make an immediate impact on the court, academically and on the campus. I have great expectations for her in all three phases.”
Scheidecker said Howard will be a leader and he wants her to score the ball in his offense. He added her coming from a winning program made her a must-have player for his program.
“I’m focused on girls who come from winning programs and a winning culture,” Scheidecker said. “They have that desire to win like myself. She was one of the best players on a team that won 20 games and competed against some of the best girls in the state. That goes a long ways.”
Michell said her daughter has the character and work ethic to help Shawnee become a winner.
“As a person, I can see that she’s a leader on and off the court,” she said. “She comes and tells me that she talks to her teammates. When I see her teacher, they say how nice of a person and how good of a person she is. She is a leader.
“He (her dad) really works with her during the dead periods and the summertime,” Michell added. “He really has her in the gym working hard with her. She’s very disciplined. With all of that falling on her, she became a leader on the court as well off the court.”
Phenicia said what her dad started, Coach Poindexter built upon the last four years.
“My Dad was the one who took me out of bed and dragged me to the base to work on my skills,” she recalled. “Coach Poindexter work with me individually.”
Poindexter said once he saw Howard’s passion to get better, he was glad to assist her growth into a college-level player.
“She’s just a high-character kid,” he said. “She’s the type of kid you root for. You want to see them be successful. She made the decision she wanted to play college basketball. She worked hard and earned it. She’s willing to earn her success.”
With teammates, coaches and parents proud of Howard’s achievement, the man who gave her the early morning wake-up calls had a moment to reflect.
“Dedication and her summer work ethic got her to this level,” Danny concluded. “She worked three to four days a week in the gym three hours at a time during the summer. Even though she didn’t play in the beginning, if she wasn’t in the school gym, she was in an off campus gym working out Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.”