Whether it was scoring a career-high 29 points, which she pulled off twice in January – or simply leading her team to victories that, on paper, the very young Lady Cat squad were not supposed to win – the decision for naming Tyler Carlson as January’s Bryan County Athlete of the Month was crystal clear.
Carlson has gone from being the only freshman on the varsity squad last year to a team captain and point leader this season. Carlson said seeing improvement within herself has boosted her confidence on the court. She attributes much of her newfound confidence to the encouragement of Coach Elizabeth Bennett and the fact that "we find ourselves winning games we were told we couldn’t win."
Carlson’s leadership on the court is undoubtedly a huge factor in those victories. Bennett perhaps describes Carlson’s effective playing style best by calling her a "triple threat".
"She can attack the basket, she can shoot from the outside, she can pick people off," Bennett explained. "Offensively and defensively, she can pretty much do it all."
Bennett said it also doesn’t hurt that Carlson "is easy to coach because she listens, she adjusts, and she’s just so naturally talented. On another side, she’s in the gym everyday and has dedication like you would not believe."
It’s no secret where Carlson’s dedication derives from – an undisputed love of the game.
"Basketball is my life. I love it," Carlson said. "Whenever it’s on TV, I’m watching it. Whenever I find a book on it, I’ll read it. I don’t know what I would do without basketball."
"It is the most rewarding thing to watch her and see her do so well at it – just knowing what it means to her," her mother Denise Carlson said.
Bennett said Carlson is a good kid off the court as well which makes Carlson an ideal candidate for the award.
"At the beginning of the year, I approached her on the court and I said ‘I heard you’re my leader.’ She kind of resisted a bit, but began leading by example," Bennett reflected. "As time has gone on, she has put a voice to it also. She says things to the players before I can get it out of my mouth. She’s an all-around amazing person, and I don’t use the word amazing lightly. I can only hope that my own children turn out like her."
Carlson has been seen in recent play concentrating on rebounding and passing. Bennett said the game plan has not shifted.
"Tyler does what the game calls for," Bennett explained. "When the post is open, she’s going to get into the post. When no one is scoring, she’s going to attack."
Bennett said Carlson’s talent is contagious and that "the resources that are building up around her leadership are exciting. We’ve got a couple eighth graders, we’ve got Dajah Davis turning it on, we’ve got sophomore Courtney Myers. She’s helping develop players, but in turn, they’re helping to develop her because they push her to be a leader and they listen to her."
Carlson not only shares her talents with her RHHS teammates, but is constantly training her 10-year-old brother. She also helps out the younger local players at the Richmond Hill Recreation Center as a referee.
Carlson has been playing basketball since she started in the rec department in 4th grade in New York – where she eventually made the all-star travel team. She said there was a lot of talent there and competition was stiff. This prepared her for an aggressive debut when arriving on the RHMS team in the 8th grade – where she was deemed MVP, she said.
The following year, she debuted at RHHS and befriended then-team leader Kala Hires. Hires passed on the number 5 jersey to Carlson to carry on a legacy that also includes former RHHS number 5 - turned AASU basketball star Sarah Brown.
"Kala was great role model and is a wonderful friend to Tyler," Carlson's father Glen said. "Tyler is carrying that torch now. I’m excited about the next couple of years for the team. I look at the freshman girls now and compare that to how much Tyler improved from last year. It’s going to be something else."
Carlson hopes to eventually play college ball. She said Bennett, formerly a coach at AASU, got her thinking about it and has even helped her fill out applications and send out tapes.
"Mark my words, this is not the last day in the sun for Tyler Carlson," Bennett said. "This award will come back to her. She’s only a sophomore and I guarantee that this is not the last time she will be declared as the Bryan County News Athlete of the Month."
Honorable mentions: BCHS basketball’s Brittany Slater and Thurman Gaines, RHHS basketball’s Chakiris Moss and Sean Szad and RHHS wrestler Jacob Fox.