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By JOEL COLEMAN
Starkville High girls basketball coach Kristie Williams is under no illusions about the Lady Yellowjackets' tough 2010-11 season.
Yet through the ups and downs, and the 5-18 overall record, the SHS leader still had a reason to smile Thursday as two of her players, Courtney Moore and Chelsey Johnson-Weaver, signed with Meridian Community College.
"This goes to show that regardless of how rocky our season was and how we didn't accomplish any of the goals we set as a team, we still have players that are able to shine at the end, who can go on and achieve their goal of playing at the next level," said Williams. "We had storms in our season, but now the rainbow is shining."
Moore shined as a dynamic post player for Williams, averaging 15.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
While indicating she believes MCC head coach Hilary Allen may move her to the wing in Meridian's fast-paced offense, Moore says her Thursday signing is both exciting and a call for her to step up her offseason workouts.
"It's like reality hasn't hit me yet," said Moore. "I've signed, but it hasn't hit. It doesn't really change a lot for me. I work out most of the summer anyway, but now instead of most of the summer, it's going to be all of the summer to get me back in shape."
According to Allen, Moore's conditioning will be key to fitting in at MCC.
The Lady Eagles, who finished at 27-6 last season while capturing their league title and conference tournament, regularly rotate players in and out of what Allen describes as an "up-and-down, full-court, fast breaking team."
"We need bodies that can go out there and play two, three or four minutes at the time and stay fresh," said Allen. "That's when we're the most successful. I see Courtney as that kind of kid. She can play four or five minutes, give me a burst of energy, take a blow, then get out there and give another burst of energy."
Williams believes Moore can step in and do big things for Allen and the Lady Eagles. After all, it wasn't that long ago that Moore did just that for the Lady Jackets.
"Courtney came in as a junior and right away made an immediate impact," said Williams. "She bonded well with the players and that chemistry developed. Courtney was a hard worker in the paint and was one of those players where the other coaches always wanted to know if she was playing or not. She made an impact for us and for opponents as well."
Johnson-Weaver was just as valuable to Williams and Starkville High. Throughout her career, Johnson saw sparse playing time, but that all changed in 2010-11.
In winning the team's sixth woman award, Johnson-Weaver averaged seven points and 6.5 rebounds per game, providing SHS with valuable minutes whenever she was on the floor.
"I've known Chelsey all of her life and to see her develop into the caliber of player that she is now is just a big accomplishment as far as her work ethic," said Williams. "Over the summer, her leadership ability stepped up tremendously and not only did she go on to win our sixth woman award this year, it was like she was that sixth starter for us. She was able to come in and get key rebounds in a ballgame and actually took charges this year. That's a big thing for us and we joked with her about that. She was able to take a charge, get up smiling and be ready to go back down the floor."
In Allen's mind, he sees a talented player in Johnson-Weaver. Perhaps even more importantly, he sees a fundamentally-sound player.
"What I have found from (Williams') players is that all of her players have the basic fundamentals of the game," said Allen. "We play at such a fast pace that I have to have that. I don't always have to have great talent or great basketball skills. If we play fundamentally sound at that fast pace, we're going to be successful. That's what I'm expecting from Chelsea and from Courtney."
Johnson-Weaver says she's excited to prove herself at MCC. Still, she says it's hard to believe she got her big opportunity to play at the next level.
"This year was really my first year to even experience touching the floor," said Johnson-Weaver. "(Williams) had always told me though that I had something special."
Now, both Johnson-Weaver and Moore will use their abilities to benefit Meridian. Williams expects both of her former players to continue to excel once they get to MCC.
"The sky is the limit for both of them," said Williams. "I've always had a great relationship with (Allen) and I know that he's going to expect a lot out of them and I know he should be able to get them to reach that highest level with him."