Heading into the final game of the Class AAA State Tournament, the pressure was on for coach Glenn Schmidt and the Starkville Academy Lady Volunteers.
“Everybody has asked me what kind of pressure do you feel to repeat with these great players and I’m just going to say I’ve enjoyed this,” Schmidt said. “This has been fun coaching. I don’t know any other word to describe it. To see the results of everything they have worked for. This is all for them.”
After playing what Tiffany Huddleston calls a “barn burner” on Friday, the team and their coach was ready to get back on the court and play their game.
“I wanted us to play that way so badly because people come to see you and I wanted them to see them go wide open and play like they can,” Schmidt said.
Anna Lea Little echoed her teammate and coach on the toughness of Friday’s game and how important it was to return to the hardwood.
“We were just glad to escape with a win (Friday) that we were more relaxed today,” Anna Lea Little said. “We just always have to play our game and that was our mentality coming in.”
Tipping off against Madison-Ridgeland Academy on Saturday, the Lady Vols got that chance to play the Starkville Academy way as it claimed a 64-29 victory.
This victory was no ordinary win as it brought with it the Class AAA State championship and the Lady Vols also improved to 40-0.
Having won the same title last season, Starkville Academy knew what it would take to repeat this year and according to Nora Kathryn Carroll, the team has been putting in the work.
“We have been working for this ever since the beginning of the season and the summer,” Carroll said. “This is all we wanted to do. We have just worked really hard and took it one game at a time and this is what we have been working for.”
Starkville Academy put that hard work to practice early.
With 3:11 to play in the first period, Little sunk a 3-pointer to place the Lady Vols up 11-6 and force MRA to call a timeout to regroup.
Starkville Academy continued the domination as it outscored the Lady Patriots 6-2 to end the period with a 17-8 lead.
Taking the early lead was all part of the Lady Vols game plan according to Sallie Kate Richardson.
“I guess from (Friday) we had a lot of pressure, but coming out (Saturday), we knew it was the championship game and we knew exactly what we needed to do and we got the job done early,” Richardson said.
The Lady Vols continued the offensive performance right into the second quarter with Maggie Proffitt hitting a 3-pointer to give a Starkville Academy a 22-10 lead with 5:23 remaining in the period.
Again MRA was forced to take a timeout as the Lady Vols defense stepped up allowing the team to engage in an 11-0 run to take a 28-10 lead with 3:30 left to play before halftime.
Defense continued to be the theme for the remainder of the half as the Lady Patriots were held to a single basket.
“It takes defense to win a game,” Carroll said. “Offense isn’t everything. We have to guard the baseline and all the drives. Our plan was just to stay on defense and play our best.”
Carroll and the team’s strategy worked as Starkville Academy entered halftime leading 32-12.
Holding a 20-point lead at the half indicated that the Lady Vols had clearly put Friday’s close game behind them and were playing with a new energy and excitement.
“(Friday) was definitely a rough game and we knew (Saturday) that really we couldn’t play any worse,” Proffitt said. “We were just excited to compete and our energy really showed in the first half.”
Sometimes it can be hard for a team to continue the momentum from a standout performance into the second half, but that was not the case for Starkville Academy, which returned to the court with an aura of determination and drive to win.
If you are wondering where that drive comes from, Huddleston says the credit goes to Schmidt.
“(Schmidt) said we were prepared for this,” Huddleston said. “We had done all we could to get ready for this game and all we had to do was get out there and play.”
Carroll reinforced her teammate’s statement adding that Schmidt spoke with the girls the night before about “getting some rest and being prepared to come out, play defense and just focus on this one game.”
Starkville Academy put its coach’s words into practice during the third period by extending their lead to 25 points. Outscoring the Lady Patriots 18-13, the Lady Vols carried a 50-25 lead into the final period.
With a championship in sight, SA kicked things into a higher gear producing a “very exciting ending” according to Huddleston.
Holding MRA to only four points, the Lady Vols proved why they have remained undefeated as they scored 14 points to leave the court as champions.
Starkville Academy ended the game with three players in double digits. Proffitt posted 19 points, while Huddleston and Little scored 15 and 11 points, respectively. Richardson was big on the boards as she pulled down 20 rebounds in the game.
The Lady Vols may have earned one state championship on Saturday, but the season does not stop there. Next week the team will enter into yet another tournament where they will compete against the best of the best for the Overall championship title.
“There is just one week left and that is what we have been working for, so we are ready for it,” Huddleston said.
Turning around to face tough competition so quickly can be tough, but Little says the team “can find enough energy” while Richardson assures fans Starkville Academy is prepared to “go for it all.”
“That’s our goal,” Schmidt said. “(The goal) is to win another tournament and we’ll take them one game at a time.”
Being Class AAA State champions after a 35-point victory and earning a spot in the Overall tournament is certainly thrilling, but the excitement did not stop there for a few Lady Vols. As action wrapped up, Little, Richardson, Huddleston and Proffitt found themselves as members of the All-Tournament team.
Saturday was a big day for Starkville Academy and it still has a big hurdle before the season ends, but for Schmidt this is not about the end result instead she is focusing on the ride and the memories made along the way.
“No matter what happens, I have had the time of my life," Schmidt said. "No question, I will never forget this team and I am blessed to be a part of this.”