November 13, 2013 7:00:51 AM
STARKVILLE -- With three starters lost from last season's state championship squad, Starkville Academy girls basketball coach Glenn Schmidt knew there would be a major re-tooling of the lineup.
The veteran coach never imagined the lineup would continue to evolve right up to opening day.
With two projected starters lost to injury and illness, Starkville Academy is learning new positions and how to play the game together. More lessons were learned Tuesday night in a 42-34 victory against Jackson Prep in the team's home opener.
"About three weeks ago, (senior) Maridee Higginbotham went down with a knee injury," Schmidt said. "I am the last person to make excuses, but that threw us into a new offensive and defensive position for everyone on the team except Sallie Kate (Richardson), so we have spent a great deal of time since the injury trying to re-adjust."
Richardson and Nora Kathryn Carroll are the lone senior starters for a program that went 43-0 games and repeated as overall Mississippi Association of Independent Schools state champions.
"It's a lot different from last year because we are not developed," Richardson said. "The more and more we practice the better we become as a team. It's not like it was last year. There are always things we need to work on to become a better team."
Higginbotham played point guard in summer workouts. Carroll had to assume those duties after the injury.
"It has been difficult because I am not used to it," Carroll said. "I knew I needed to step up, but I hadn't played any point guard since maybe seventh or eighth grade. This team needed someone who can handle the ball. Other players are younger and they are trying to develop their skills."
Starkville Academy (2-2) used a dominating performance on defense Tuesday night. After a nip-and-tuck struggle through three quarters, the Lady Volunteers used an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter to pull away. Jackson Prep went nearly seven minutes between scores in the fourth quarter.
"Coach Schmidt's big thing is defense," Richardson said. "She stresses a lot about defense. If you stop a play on defense, that can lead to offense. If you make a stop and then make a shot, good defense can turn into good offense. That is what she was stressing to use in the fourth quarter."
Schmidt really likes the makeup of this team, even though youth dominates the roster.
"We are trying to find ourselves," Schmidt said. "Our young kids are doing a great job of trying to fit in. We are trying to rebuild what we were doing this summer. We have kids who are going to have to play before their time. The players are improving. The bad news is Sallie Kate, Nora Kathryn, and Anna (McKell), our main returnees, will have to play every play of every game to give our young players a chance to be successful."
Jackson Prep scored the final eight points of the opening quarter to take an 8-4 advantage. Starkville Academy righted the ship, made fewer turnovers, and eased to a 15-12 halftime lead.
The long-range shooting of Ann Hilton Buckner kept the Lady Patriots in the game. Jackson Prep closed within 30-29 on a basket by Kristina Zouboukos on the opening possession of the fourth quarter.
"Defensively, we had to step it up," Carroll said. "If we were able to put a couple of stops together, we could win the game."
The Lady Volunteers did just that. A couple of stellar defensive plays by Richardson and Adrienne Futral turned the tide for good.
"Prep has two or three offensive threats," Schmidt said. "Buckner is a phenomenal offensive player. It took us a while to adjust to their press. We did handle the press eventually, but our rebounding advantage on the boards was the key to the victory."
Richardson led Starkville Academy with 20 points, nine rebounds, six steals, and three blocked shots -- two of which came in a decisive 11-0 run. Carroll added 10 points.
Buckner led Prep with 11 points.
n In the nightcap, the Jackson Prep boys ruined Starkville Academy's season opener with a 54-40 victory.
Brandon Lane led Starkville Academy with 12 points, while Caleb Merchant added 10. Case Woodward led Jackson Prep with 17 points, while Ben Clark added 12 and Matthew Meyers had 10.
Starkville Academy will play Thursday at Oak Hill Academy.
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter