December 10, 2013 12:52:02 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Stocking stuffers are popular at this time of the year.
While Glenn Schmidt is looking forward to receiving plenty of holiday tidings, she also has an affinity for stat stuffers. Just like elves who pack stockings to the point they overflow, Sallie Kate Richardson and Anna McKell are doing everything they can to ensure their final stats load up a boxscore and ensure victories for the Starkville Academy girls basketball team.
Last week, Richardson and McKell teamed to play key roles in victories against East Rankin Academy and Baldwyn. In a 48-40 victory against ERA, Richardson, a senior, had 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four blocked shots, and two steals, while McKell, a junior, had five points and 17 rebounds. In a 56-35 victory against Baldwyn, Richardson had 29 points, 14 rebounds, five steals, three blocks, and two assists, while McKell had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
For their accomplishments, Richardson and McKell are The Dispatch's co-Prep Players of the Week.
"They both have stepped their games up," Schmidt said. "Sallie Kate has really decided she is going to play the role she needs to play. Anna is filling in the gaps we're losing because Nora (Kathryn Carroll) is not in her normal position for most of the game. Nora was the outside shooter, and Anna has done a good amount of that for us."
Carroll, who also is a senior, has moved from the shooting guard position to point guard to help make up for the loss of senior Maridee Higginbotham, who suffered a knee injury in practice earlier in the season. Schmidt said Higginbotham tried to come back from the injury, but she will have surgery next week to repair torn anterior and medial collateral ligaments and meniscus.
The loss of Higginbotham, who joined Richardson and Carroll on the Lady Volunteers' last two teams that swept to Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II, Class AAA, and overall state titles, forced Schmidt to use Carroll, who developed a reputation for her long-range shooting, with sophomore Adrienne Futral at point guard. With Carroll adjusting to a new position and new duties, Schmidt said McKell's performance has helped the team regroup. She believed McKell had it in her to be the rebounding presence she has shown she can be.
"I was kind of thinking she might be the silent killer, so to speak, the player you saw out there but never realized what she did until the game was over and you looked at those statistics," Schmidt said. "She is the blue collar player right now."
Schmidt said a bonus is McKell is feeling more comfortable taking on a scoring role, too. Schmidt said she never puts players into positions and pushes them to score because she wants that to come naturally and for the player to feel comfortable doing it. McKell said she is developing that feeling by working with Richardson and seeing how defenses will attempt to clamp down on her to prevent her from scoring. With Richardson occupying more attention, McKell said she is learning how to take advantage of spacing to find open shots.
"I have always played guard, so switching to a post has been a bit of a change, but I feel I am progressing well," McKell said. "I guess I like rebounding because I like having my hands on the ball."
McKell said she doesn't mind moving from the wing into the paint. She also said she doesn't mind mixing it up down low because she has the mind-set that the ball is hers each time she sees it come off the rim.
"I feel I am more aggressive in the post," McKell said. "Even though there are some girls who are taller than me, I feel I have had to be aggressive to get the rebound. I like how the change has helped me get better as a player."
Schmidt said Richardson's experience has helped her raise her level of play. With players like Tiffany Huddleston, Anna Lea Little, Maggie Proffitt, and Carroll around her the past two seasons, Richardson usually could operate in the paint area against only one defender, which allowed her to use her post moves to create shots. The Lady Volunteers don't have as many experienced perimeter options this season, so Schmidt said Richardson is reaching out and doing more.
"Assist, steals, and blocks, those things make a huge difference in the game, and she has really raised her level of input in those areas, and of course, rebounding," Schmidt said. "One of the things we always say to them is you have to go someplace else, you can't get comfortable with what you're doing well. We tell them they have to reach out there and do something you haven't done yet."
Richardson said she and Carroll have had to adjust to being the oldest players on the team. She also said more players -- like junior Taylor Campbell and sophomores Jacey Williams and Maris Moorehead -- are settling into roles to help the team find the right mix.
Individually, Richardson feels she has taken on a bigger role in more ways.
"I think (I am doing more) scoring because last year scoring was more spread out," Richardson said. "This year, there are two or three players who are stepping up and they are having more points and rebounds."
Richardson said defenses are recognizing that and she is getting double-teamed, which can be frustrating. She said the key is making the defenses pay for their strategies by finding the open player.
McKell and Richardson have embraced that challenge and picked up on the various things -- like rebounding or stepping out of a comfort zone -- Schmidt has said they need to do to help the team be successful. Through 11 games, the mix is working well and is packing boxscores on a nightly basis.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.