February 5, 2013 12:25:54 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Starkville Academy junior Sallie Kate Richardson rang in the New Year in what her coach called a "slight shooting slump."
Still, Glenn Schmidt has been around basketball long enough to know a quality player is going to find a way to get back on top of her game.
Richardson did just that this past week, collecting 52 points and 25 rebounds as the top-ranked Lady Volunteers remained undefeated with victories over Heritage Academy, Jackson Prep and Memphis Home School.
For her efforts, Richardson has been named The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
"Mom (Christy Richardson) has always been my biggest supporter in basketball," Richardson said. "She kept encouraging me. She told me to keep working at it and that my shot would come back. She always taught me that I can't stop and that I have to keep working hard to be the best I can be at whatever I am doing."
While Schmidt knows that mother knows best, she also believed that her sharp-shooter would regain the proper form in time for the Lady Volunteers' stretch run.
"Sallie Kate had a really great week for us," Schmidt said. "That is what happens when you are a great player. You are always capable of that breakout game. She had that breakout game against Heritage. They picked (the defensive options) and she put it in the hole.
"Even though she had been in a shooting slump that really wasn't saying much."
Perhaps the main reason why Starkville Academy is a defending state champion is the fact that the team has balance. If any player has a struggle, the good news is several others are there to pick up the slack.
"It really is hard to pick a player of the week from our team, because it is hard to single out our players," Schmidt said. "They don't want to be singled out. The team mentality is the main reason why we have had so much success.
"Everybody wants to score. The moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, and boyfriends, too, all care about points. But there is so much more to the game. You may have a player asked to carry the defensive load. Sallie Kate had 10 assists this past week. Those are winning players. Our balance is exceptional."
The strength of her team from player one to player last is not lost on Richardson, who relishes daily the chance to play high school basketball.
"I love everything about playing high school basketball," Richardson said. "When you have someone who is at good at every position, it makes things easy. My teammates are always there when I am down, too. When I was struggling, they would tell me to stay confidence and to keep taking shots.
"Nora Kathryn (Carroll) and I were both moved up to the high school team after one year of playing junior high basketball. At first, it was a big adjustment. I knew the coaches had confidence in me, so I had to step up and prove that I could play on the next level."
Schmidt never doubted that the transition would be seamless and that Richardson would blossom playing high school ball.
"She is very hard to guard at her position," Schmidt said. "We have moved her away from the basket more this season and tried to strengthen her offensive game. Next season, when she has that senior maturity, she will be a force to be reckoned with from more places on the court."
The Lady Volunteers have already proven a handful to deal with on the basketball court. This season, the squad is 32-0, thus extending its two-season win streak to 41 straight games. While the team remains undefeated, the players feel no added pressure.
"We really don't look at the record," Richardson said. "I think we have handled having a target on ours back pretty well this year. We don't get caught up in having to win every game. Instead, we are focusing the final goal of the year. That goal is another state championship.
"We have done it before. We know what it takes. We look forward to doing it again."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter