March 5, 2013 10:59:31 AM
STARKVILLE -- A year ago, Nora Kathryn Carroll admits she wasn't quite sure how sports fit into her future.
While Carroll played key roles for the Starkville Academy girls soccer and girls basketball teams, she wanted to work on her skills, particularly on the basketball court, to make a bigger impact.
Consider that goal accomplished and a bigger step left to take.
Carroll was one of five key reasons the Starkville Academy girls basketball team (43-0) completed a perfect season Friday and Saturday and won the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Overall State title. Carroll scored 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting from 3-point range Friday in a victory against Bowling Green Academy. She backed that effort up with a little defense against Trista Magee on Saturday in a 54-33 victory against Presbyterian Christian at Mississippi College's A.E. Wood Coliseum.
For her accomplishments, Carroll is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
"I feel I have gotten more confident in my playing and the way I shoot," Carroll said. "I have gotten more confident on defense because (Starkville Academy) coach (Glenn) Schmidt usually gives me their main scorer. (Defense) is what I focus on mainly, more than I do offense."
"I want to continue to work on my shooting and I want to focus on my defense. I want to be more involved on offense instead of standing around shooting."
Schmidt avoids trying to single out players because she stresses a team concept. The Lady Volunteers have used that mind-set the past two seasons to win back-to-back Class AAA, Division II, Class AAA, and overall state championships. On Saturday, though, Schmidt couldn't help but praise her junior guard/forward.
"We told her don't let (Magee) get comfortable with the way you play her," Schmidt said. "What a tournament she had. She started the thing. She was very confident in her shooting. She has taken a nagging from all of us. She came back and worked on her shot, took some good advice from all of us, got those feet planted, and she did it again today. She was very focused."
After hanging back and giving Magee space early in the first quarter, Carroll adjusted and played tighter on Magee. Carroll guarded with that confidence because she trusted her teammates would be there to cut off the baseline and driving lanes, which they did. Sallie Kate Richardson also played a key role in holding Magee, who had 20 points in the last meeting against Starkville Academy, to 11 points.
Carroll mentioned the word focus several times Saturday after the game. She said having the right attitude allowed her to work on her shooting mechanics in the offseason and improve her consistency. After a season in which she made a bigger contribution, Carroll said it remains her dream to play basketball in college. She said she wants to be an occupational therapist and isn't sure where academics will take her, or if athletics will factor into her college decision. But you can tell from the way she talks about her future that this season has affected her thinking.
"I think I have done a lot better this year," Carroll said. "I think last year my mind-set wasn't focused on basketball. I focused on it this year because we had a really good team and I knew we could go really far.
"Last season, I didn't feel I did that great to go to any college. Then I played AAU (with Richardson and Anna Lea Little with Ron Nichols on a team out of Oxford) this summer and that helped me get a lot better. This season, I just slowly started getting better."
Carroll plans to continue to play AAU in an attempt to take her game to the next level. She admits she isn't sure if she will want to play basketball in college, but she likes the fact she could have a greater chance to earn a scholarship offer after being a part of a second-consecutive three-peat of titles.
"I feel like I have to not put myself down and realize I might have potential and work toward it," Carroll said. "My AAU coach told me I don't see myself as good as the other players and that I put myself down, when he said I am as good as they are and I just don't realize it.
"I am ready to see what can happen next year and this summer."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.