March 30, 2013 11:30:32 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- There weren't too many teams that tested the chemistry and the togetherness that binded Starkville Academy girls basketball team this season.
But with 5 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the semifinals of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA State tournament at Jackson Academy, Presbyterian Christian led Starkville Academy 33-21 and appeared ready to snap the Lady Volunteers' 38-game winning streak and end their hopes at a second consecutive three-peat of championships.
What followed was as improbable a comeback as you will see.
Starkville Academy relied on its pressure defense to create turnovers, two free throws by Maggie Proffitt, and a key defensive play by Sallie Kate Richardson to earn a 40-37 victory that sent the team on its way to its second Class AAA title in as many seasons.
"It was not until the very end when we started to get steals on the press and we got a couple of layups," Richardson said. "Things finally started going our way."
That was the understatement of the season.
Buoyed by solid all-around play by Anna Lea Little, steady floor leadership by Tiffany Huddleston, and timely perimeter shooting and defense by Nora Kathryn Carroll, Starkville Academy traveled to Clinton to win three more games to cap a 43-0 season and its second MAIS overall state title. The Lady Volunteers couldn't have done it without the play of their five starters, who showed all season what could happen when talented players set aside individual accolades and came together to form a sum of their skills that proved to be unbeatable.
For their accomplishments, Carroll, Huddleston, Little, Proffitt, and Richardson earn the unique distinction of sharing The Dispatch's All-Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year Award. Columbus High School's Kiki Patterson shares the award with the Starkville Academy players.
Starkville Academy will enter next season on a 52-game winning streak. Earlier in the season, it became the first private school team to be ranked in The Clarion-Ledger's Super 10 poll. It finished the season ranked No. 5 in that poll, which recognizes the best teams in all classifications and associations.
In addition to the team honors, Starkville Academy garnered a host of individual honors. Proffitt, the Columbus High transfer, was named the MVP of the All-MAIS team. Little joined her on the first team, while Richardson and Huddleston were named to the second team.
All four players and Carroll were named to the all-tournament team at the MAIS overall state tournament at Mississippi College's A.E. Wood Coliseum.
Proffitt, who will attend the University of Central Arkansas in the fall on a basketball scholarship, summed it up best when she was asked how five talented players blended their skills so well and shared the spotlight.
"I think a lot of it helped off the court because we weren't just together on the court, we did stuff outside of school, outside of practice, and hung out on the weekends," Proffitt said. "We all became kind of close in that sense. On the court, none of us are really selfish, and being that all of us could score, teams couldn't worry about just one player, so they couldn't play a box-and-one or a triangle-and-two. They had to worry about all of us. I think we fed off each other, and that just helped us along."
Little will attend Arkansas Tech on a basketball scholarship, while Huddleston received a scholarship to play soccer at Mississippi State University.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.