October 29, 2012 10:29:56 PM
STARKVILLE -- Forget about the bull's-eye. The 2012-13 Starkville Academy girls basketball won't allow the expectations of others to serve as motivation for another championship run.
Instead, the Lady Volunteers will provide the fuel for their title drive. And while players like Anna Prestridge, Julianne Jackson, Brittany Jacks, and Lauren Atwell have moved on, the core of last season's championship squad remains intact, and includes a key addition: senior guard Maggie Proffitt. The transfer from Columbus High School could provide additional firepower to a program that prided itself on an "All for one and one for all" approach last season. That mind-set helped the Lady Volunteers (38-5) win the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II title, the Class AAA crown, and the overall state title. The championships were the first in the program's history.
Coach Glenn Schmidt said the 2012-13 will be a different team than last season's squad. She will get her first look at the new group at 4 p.m. today when it takes on Bowling Green (La.) at the East Rankin Academy tournament.
"We talk about what we have to do to get better to win the next game. That is what we always do," Schmidt said. "We don't stand around at practice and say, 'If we don't do this we're not going to win overall.' It is not an issue. It is October. We don't know anything about ourselves. We have to develop our personality and our style."
Starkville Academy will return to the tournament Thursday for a 5:15 p.m. game against Brookhaven. From there, Starkville Academy will play Mississippi High School Activities Association members Itawamba Agricultural (4 p.m. Saturday) and New Site (7 p.m. Nov. 6) at the Hamilton High School tournament. Schmidt's team also will play MHSAA members Noxubee County and Starkville High in the Columbus High Christmas tournament in December. Her hope is that a tougher schedule will show her players they have to be ready every night because they will get the best effort from opponents.
"I am looking for these next four games to determine a lot of things about us that I need to know that you don't see in practice," Schmidt said. "You hope some players have matured. They were pretty good, and they had a pretty good year, but you hope some players have matured and some leadership is going to emerge."
Leadership will be an essential ingredient, especially since the Lady Volunteers will be without Prestridge, a point guard who helped guide the team without having to be a scorer.
Proffitt hopes to fill in at least part of that void. She said she didn't know her new teammates before she transferred to the school. She said she got to know them a little bit once the team started playing in June, and she feels she will be able to fit in well with a multi-talented group of girls.
"It was really easy to come in because they were all accepting and they welcomed me with open arms," Proffitt said. "I think we all get along."
Proffitt figures to provide another wing presence to complement senior forward Anna Lea Little. She also will give the Lady Volunteers another ballhandler to support senior point guard Tiffany Huddleston and backup point guard Maridee Higginbotham, who Schmidt said is battling an injury.
Juniors Sallie Kate Richardson and Nora Kathryn Carroll offer a post/wing presence, and sophomores Alex McCafferty and Janiece Pigg will add depth on the blocks.
Sophomores McClain Morgan, Anna McKell, Hannah Huddleston, and Taylor Campbell will provide depth in the backcourt.
"We can all do a little bit of everything," Proffitt said, "so it is easy to get players in and out and not have to worry about playing different spots. We're willing to do whatever it takes to help each other, so I think it is really good fit."
Little, like Proffitt, has range out to the 3-point arc. She also can take her game inside. Schmidt said Little focused in the offseason on becoming more athletic in an effort to help make the Lady Volunteers' title defense even easier.
Little knows this season's team has a lot of talent, and that it will be important for the squad not to put last season in a box and compare itself to that group. She hopes it will be just as easy for this season's team to play together and not have to re-learn the importance of chemistry.
"We all saw that it worked out pretty well," Little said. "The main thing everybody wants to do is win, so we're not real concerned about individual performances. Also, it is good to have things spread out so we're not putting pressure on just one person."
Little accepts that other teams and people outside the program will put pressure on Starkville Academy. She said she kind of likes being the team to beat, but she cautioned that the Lady Volunteers have to be careful not to get too full of themselves because that will take away from the team concept that makes everyone play so well together.
Schmidt hopes that's the case, too. She believes this group can be a high-powered offensive group. She said her job will be to find a way to get the Lady Volunteers to play equally hard on defense and to assert a confident attitude every night so they can go out and dominate.
Little feels the team is prepared.
"We really want to repeat this year. That is the most important thing for all of us," Little said. "I think it is important that we set our own expectations for ourselves and don't let other peoples' expectations define us."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.