If there was any doubt how valuable Laura Kopald is to the Augusta Prep girls basketball team, those questions were put to rest Saturday night.
Less than a month ago, private-school rival Augusta Christian blew out the Lady Cavaliers by 35 points. But Augusta Prep was playing without Kopald.
The junior forward returned to the lineup Saturday night, and the Lady Cavaliers claimed a 51-45 win over Augusta Christian at home. Kopald's nine points, seven in the second half, was the third highest scoring total for Augusta Prep, but her presence alone made a difference.
"Last time we didn't have Laura," senior guard Mary Beth Horton said. "We had Laura, and we played more as a team this time."
Horton added to Kopald's nine points with a 15-point performance of her own. But sophomore Jennifer Hicks stepped into the spotlight the most Saturday with a game-high 16 points, including a key free throw to end the first half that gave the Lady Knights a 31-30 lead.
"She's been a glue that's held us together with defense and rebounding," Augusta Prep girls basketball coach Jeremy Burden said. "I think it was good for her to finally see the points come, too."
The Augusta Prep victory over its nearest private school opponent didn't carry as much meaning as it used to, when the two schools were region rivals in the Georgia Independent Schools Association less than five years ago.
Augusta Christian has since moved to the South Carolina Independent Schools Association, but the two teams still play an annual home and away series.
Until Saturday's win, Augusta Christian dominated that series with four wins in a row. The last time Augusta Prep beat the Lady Lions was Dec. 17, 2004, in a 43-36 Lady Cavalier victory on the road.
Since then, the program has seen head coach Jeremy Burden take over, with positive results.
Augusta Prep has moved from last season's 2-21 record to an 8-9 mark this season. Burden said Saturday night's win was the biggest.
"I think it's our first quality win since I've been here," he said. "This will make the girls want to work harder. They're now seeing their hard work pay off."
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 863-6165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.