When the Curtis Baptist girls basketball team's season began, Meggie Bruce said she felt the pressure.
The only senior on an extremely young Lady Crusaders basketball team (12 of the 15 players on the roster are freshman or eighth graders) Bruce didn't know what to be - a leader, a role model, a coach or the team's leading scorer who kept quiet.
Sure, she'd score her 28 or 30 points a game, but Curtis Baptist's opponents got wise to her.
And when that happened, Bruce figured it out. She had to be, simply put, one of five players on the team. That's all.
Freshman Jessica Nickel and the rest of the Lady Crusaders would take care of the rest.
"At the beginning of the season, a lot of people were saying that I had so much pressure on me," said Bruce, who will lead her team into the GISA Region 1-AA tournament today at Briarwood Academy. "I had thought I had to get this done, say that, do that. But then it kind of hit me. I didn't have to put that weight on my shoulders."
Instead, when Curtis Baptist opponents started playing a box-and-one defense on Bruce, Nickel picked up the slack.
"She's already got leadership," Bruce said. "And she's got so much talent that she's been blessed with. She's going to get better each year, and I'm excited to see that."
Said Curtis Baptist coach Doug Wasden: "When I came here last year, I didn't anticipate Jessica playing with the varsity as an eighth grader. But the way she played just blew my socks off."
The duo has been more impressive this year.
Bruce leads the team with 21.1 points, 3.2 steals and 6.7 rebounds per game, but Nickel isn't far behind. She averages 17.8, 2.6 and 6.3 per game, respectively.
But the freshman wing brings her own style to the Lady Crusaders squad. While Bruce, the team's other wing, looks to penetrate and drive the lane, Nickel is content to pop the 3-pointer. And she's been successful, shooting 42 percent from behind the arc this season and setting a school record earlier this year with nine treys in a game.
"They really complement each other," Wasden said. "But the rest of the team has to work hard too. Jessica Bass, our point guard, has to pass them the ball, and our two post players - Kelly Strickland and Anna McKettrick - set picks for them. Instead of trying to score, they kick it back out to Meggie and Jessica."
Neither, though, would make a peep if they weren't getting those looks. Bruce said she "keeps her mouth shut," and when being interviewed, Nickel said she "couldn't think of anything to say."
Apparently both like their stats to talk for them.
"Jessica and Meggie are real quiet," Wasden said. "They don't say a whole lot, and they don't talk smack or talk noise. They just play."
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216