Three games into this women’s college basketball season, first-year Campbell University head coach Ronny Fisher conducted something of an experiment. During a home game against Virginia Commonwealth University on Nov. 19, Fisher inserted sophomore guard Caroline Bowns into the starting lineup after she opened the season with back-to-back double digit scoring performances coming off the bench.
The experiment failed: Bowns went scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting, and Campbell lost, 66-53.
Back to the bench went Bowns.
And that was fine with Bowns. It’s where she had become comfortable for the Lady Camels, as comfortable as a former four-year starter in high school could be.
“I think people don’t realize, but playing a Division I sport is so much harder than it looks,” Bowns said.
Lately, though, it seems to be getting easier for the former North Forsyth standout. Fisher didn’t abandon his experiment with Bowns after that Nov. 19 loss. Seven games (and six wins) later, Fisher re-inserted Bowns into the starting lineup, and she hasn’t left since, becoming a key component for an upstart Campbell team that appears poised to contend for a Big South Conference title.
Indeed, the Lady Camels have won nine of their last 10 games and are 12-4 overall and 4-1 in the Big South after a 61-32 victory against Winthrop on Tuesday. It was Bowns’s sixth straight start of the season and the kind of performance that’s earned her a more prominent role of late: nine points on three 3-pointers, six rebounds, four assists and one block in a team-high 37 minutes.
And Bowns is showing the promise she displayed during an accomplished career at North. She leads the team in 3-point shooting (40.3 percent) and is its third-leading scorer (7.3 points a game).
“I guess coach just gave me a chance,” Bowns said, “and we’re rolling with it.”
Bowns’s time at North was a picture of stability and success. She played for one head coach (Eric Herrick), and the Lady Raiders never won less than 20 games a season, never failed to reach a region championship game and never failed to make the state tournament.
And much of it was because of Bowns, a 5-foot-11 hybrid talent who could drive and shoot and rebound and defend. She made an impact from the very beginning, becoming a starter as a freshman. A year later, she was named the Forsyth County girls basketball player-of-the-year. She went on to finish as North’s all-time leading scorer and 3-point shooter. Aside from a scary leg injury her freshman season, it was something of a charmed high school career.
Bowns’s early experience at Campbell was less charming. She came to the campus in Buies Creek, North Carolina (population: 2,942) to play for then-head coach Wanda Watkins, who was entering her 35th year with the program. But Campbell struggled, going 13-18 overall and 7-13 in the Big South. So did Bowns, who averaged just 2.3 points a game and made 25 percent of her 3-pointers coming off the bench.
After the season, Watkins resigned as head coach to take another position in the athletic department.
“At the time I think we were all a little hurt, a little sad,” Bowns said. “She did recruit all of us. From then it was like, ‘Alright, well, what’s next?’”
Campbell eventually hired Fisher, and as individual workouts transitioned to summer practices, Bowns sensed things coming together.
“We started seeing that his system works,” Bowns said, “and it works extremely well with the team we have this year. He likes shooters. He likes quick guards. He likes rebounding. And he likes people who can defend. This year, we have everyone can fill those roles that he likes.”
Now, Campbell find itself at the top of the Big South standings, buoyed by the hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000.
“It’s not out of our reach. That’s exciting,” Bowns said. “It makes us want to come to practice every day and work even harder knowing that we have a chance this year.”
Confidence is especially high after the Lady Camels’s 61-55 win against defending Big South champs UNC-Asheville on Jan. 3 – the same team that eliminated Campbell from last season’s conference tournament.
And Bowns finds herself right in the middle of it all.
“It just shows you how much things can change,” Bowns said.