A year ago, Briana Robinson's expectations were simple.
A sophomore, Robinson was a young player on a young Spring Valley team with a new coach. In a starting lineup that included no upperclassmen, there was no imperative for Robinson to be a leader.
"I never felt pressure," Robinson said. "It was just about playing the game, playing your hardest on the floor."
This year, Robinson, now a junior in her third season as a starter, realizes she must do both.
"I'm kind of in between still. I'm still young, but not really inexperienced anymore," said Robinson, one of two junior starters for the Vikings. Robinson has averaged 12.6 points, 2.1 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game for the 23-2 Vikings, who play at Northwestern in the Class 4A quarterfinals on Monday.
Robinson and Savonia Bryan both were starters and leading scorers for Spring Valley as freshmen, when the Vikings went 9-14 and missed the playoffs.
Then Anne Long took over the program, bringing in a new a system that put all the players at square one.
"I really looked at it as everybody's first year and treated everyone as newcomers, with learning a new system and everyone still trying to get to know each other," Long said.
Long's arrival, coupled with that of Division I prospects Asia Dozier and Xylina McDaniel, got fans talking about the Vikings' potential. As Spring Valley cruised toward the 2008-09 championship, it became clear that the Vikings were not a two-player team.
The "older" players, Long said, were indispensible to the well-rounded team effort that made the Vikings unstoppable. In the title game, Robinson led the Vikings with 20 points to earn most valuable player honors.
Even as the Vikings were hoisting the trophy, Robinson knew things were about to change.
"The offseason, I knew from my experience that I was going to have to work real hard," Robinson said. "That's when champions are made."
Robinson said she aimed to become more of a scoring threat, a goal Long said she has attained.
"Briana is a scorer, a gamer, and I think she's just now coming into her own," Long said.
As for Robinson becoming an all-around leader, the Vikings' staff knows that change may take more time.
"It can be difficult when you have so many talented players, so close in age, for one to really want to step out in front of all the others," assistant coach Doretha Garland said.
Bryan said she and Robinson try to be more like the "big sisters" of the team.
"We're kind of all on the same level, and we're all so close, but sometimes we have to take charge," said Bryan, a forward who often leads the Vikings' defensive efforts. "They might look at us sometimes like who said we were in charge, but that's what we have to do."
Long said that is what she likes most about the four juniors on her team- they all understand and accept their roles.
Forward Sarah Long moved up from junior varsity and gives the Vikings "quality relief minutes," Long said. Jocelyn Lawrence, a 6-foot-3 post, is the first player off the bench and their second leading rebounder at 6.4 per game.
"Being part of this team is phenomenal," Lawrence said. "There's five girls ahead of me that are just amazing and that's great because whenever I go out there, I know I don't have to do it by myself."
None of them do. And that is the key to the Vikings' success.
While Dozier, McDaniel and fellow sophomore Shaquita Walker will have one more year at Spring Valley than Robinson, Bryan and Lawrence, their goal of establishing a dynasty is one they can only reach together.