June 6, 2013 10:40:57 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Four months later, the celebration continues for the Starkville Academy girls basketball team.
Starkville Academy cemented its place in the history books earlier this season with a 43-0 finish that included a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II state championship, a Class AAA state title, and an overall state championship.
On Wednesday night, the team gathered again for a celebration of food, family, fun, and friendship. Team members also received their state championship rings.
"You will always remember this night because this may be the last time you are together like this as one," said Starkville Academy coach Glenn Schmidt, who just completed her 10th season at the school and coached each of the state championship teams. "Twenty years from now, you will be here to play in an alumni game. They will have to roll me out in a wheelchair.
"Don't worry, though. I will coach you as hard then as I just did this season."
Schmidt's coaching career spans four decades, including stops at public and private schools in Mississippi, as well as senior college. She said this season was different because she was asked the same question every week.
"They would say, 'Coach, is this the best team you have ever coached?" Schmidt said. "All coaches get that question, and you always say you can distinguish because each team is different. You can't ever be partial. This year is quite different. This is the best team I have ever coached.
"Some have even gone to say this is the best team ever in the MAIS. When you are the best ever, you feel a different sense of satisfaction because you know that is all there is."
A season full of 6 a.m. practices and travels to the ends of the state seemed worthwhile as the players acted like giggling first-graders when the ring boxes were broken out.
"We have been waiting a long time for this," Starkville Academy senior Anna Lea Little said.
The team put their rings on collectively after all of the rings were distributed.
"This is just a great way to end the season," Starkville Academy senior Tiffany Huddleston said. "Few teams can say all of their goals were realized."
Starkville Academy took a unique route to the state championship. Its balance enabled any one of the five starters to be the leading scorer. The Lady Volunteers won with fundamentals on defense and a collective mind-set that few teams could match.
"Throughout the year, I was told that many people came to see us play who had not been on campus in years," Schmidt said. "They had heard about the team and wanted to see what we were all about. This team was fun to watch. They played basketball the right way. When one team can come together and connect so many in the community, it is a special team."
Starkville Academy played a mix of public and private schools. It also became the state's first private school ranked in The Clarion-Ledger Super 10 poll, which ranks the state's best teams.
As Schmidt spoke Wednesday night, she has numerous props, including newspapers clippings, polls, and charts. She reminded the seniors this would be the last time they had to put up with her and reminded the upperclassmen that their journey was just now taking flight.
After all, next season begins with a two-season, 52-game win streak on the line.
That business will be handled another day. On Wednesday, banners, T-shirts, and the state championship trophies gave the room a festive atmosphere. Hugs were given, stories were told, and pictures were taken.
"You will come back to the school and see the trophy gathering dust," Schmidt said. "You will wear the T-shirt until it gets old and faded. The ring is something different. You will give that to your children one day and tell them how much fun we had this year."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter