COLUMBIA — Heather English streaked up the sideline, looking for a pass from her teammate beyond the arc. Once she got it, she wasted no time making a cut through three defenders and laying the ball in, all in one fluid motion.
Urged on by her coach, English sped down to the other end of the court, where she took her place under the basket and swatted the ball out of her opponent's hands, preventing an easy layup.
It might have only been a scrimmage, but English showed off the playmaking ability that has helped her become an offensive leader for the injury-ridden Columbia College women's basketball team.
English, a Boonville native, is scoring 14.1 points per game, three points more than she averaged last year, when she was named American Midwest Conference Freshman of the Year.
Cougars coach Mike Davis said he has seen English step up to fill the team's needs.
"Since all the injuries, she's just felt the urgency for her to do more and take over more, where maybe earlier in the year she was sharing more with some of the other players," he said. "She realizes we need her to step to the forefront."
At the same time, English has worked to create opportunities for her teammates.
"We only have six or seven people playing," English said after a loss last Thursday to rival William Woods. "We should have three people in double digits."
The Cougars will need English to stay consistent as they enter a two-game stretch that could set the tone for the rest of conference play. The team will travel to Arkansas to play Williams Baptist this Thursday before returning home Saturday for a matchup against Hannibal-LaGrange.
Although the teams trail Columbia College in the conference standings — Williams Baptist is fourth and Hannibal-LaGrange is fifth behind the third-place Cougars — the coach's message to his team at Wednesday's practice was clear.
"Both of them, ladies, are dangerous teams," Davis said. "They are very capable of beating anybody in the conference."
Davis emphasized the importance of hustling on every possession and rebounding efforts under the basket.
"We can't afford to have anyone not really tuned in," he said. "It takes each one of us being ready each ballgame right now."
The Eagles and Cougars are set to tip off at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Columbia College is 13-7 on the season and 3-1 in conference play.