March 4, 2014 10:32:52 AM
Nobody said change is easy.
Even seniors sometimes get caught up in looking at things other than the bigger picture and losing sight of what is best for the team.
Moesha Calmes can smile now when she is asked to think back to the beginning of the season when she and senior classmate Kaitlin Bradley weren't in the starting lineup. It's a sly smile that indicates there were plenty of hard practices and moments when coach Laura Lee Holman tried to drive her lesson home.
The New Hope High School girls basketball team is still alive because something clicked and enabled Calmes to make a change.
"The beginning was just us learning our team really needs us and we can't be selfish about it," Calmes said. "Once we realized that, we stepped up and started doing our part a lot better."
Calmes showed Saturday how much she has matured since the beginning of the season, scoring 21 points to help New Hope beat Canton 71-40 in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State tournament. On Friday, D.J. Sanders scored 28 points, had 10 rebounds, and made five steals to lead New Hope to a 66-42 victory against Pearl to secure a spot in Jackson.
For their accomplishments, Calmes and Sanders are The Dispatch's co-Prep Players of the week.
New Hope (26-2) will take on South Jones at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the state semifinals at Memorial Coliseum in Jackson. The winner of that game will take on the winner of the Natchez-Canton game at a time and date to be determined.
A year after losing to Lanier in overtime in the North State tournament, New Hope set its sights on learning from that setback and taking the next step. With eight seniors, the Lady Trojans have used their experience, depth, and versatility to punch their ticket to the "Big House" for the first time in nearly 30 years.
Calmes agreed a change needed to be made because she said her mind wasn't in the right place at the start of the season.
"I just couldn't get my mind focused on what it should have been focused on," Calmes said. "I finally just sat down and talked to coach about it and we got my mind back on track."
Calmes said Holman talked to her for 20 minutes and tried to impress upon her that the team needed her help to realize its goals. She said the talk came early enough to affect a change, even if she admitted it took her two or three games to get her mind right. She said something finally clicked that forced her to realize she had to get straight and help her team.
"I am not a talkative person, but I try my best to be a leader and help my teammates," Calmes said. "I have changed a lot. There is a big difference. You would probably have to come to a practice to see the big difference. It is not like I slacked off (in practice) all of the time. I picked and chose (when I would work hard). I realized if I want to be a state we have to work hard every possession, every minute."
Sanders has seen her teammate's change affect the team's performance.
"She doesn't think she is a leader, but I actually do," Sanders said. "She has gotten to the point where she sees people doing things wrong or if they aren't going hard. Back then, she wouldn't say anything. Now she sees it and lets them know they need to ix it. She is better than me in saying it in a positive way and in a way that gets them motivated and they respond to it."
Sanders, who spearheads the Lady Trojans' pressure defense and typically plays up top in their half-court defense, has been a steady presence all season. Her ability to rebound and to handle the basketball has been a fixture in New Hope ability to push tempo and to turn its defense into offense. Despite all of the success the past two seasons, she said it hasn't sunk in that the girls basketball team is going to Jackson.
"It still doesn't feel real," Sanders said. "I don't want to say that it feels like we deserve it, but we do because we have been working so hard and it has taken us so long to get to the point where we have got it.
"It is not a state championship, but it is just a little (sign to show) that hard work does pay off. We have done all of this and it does count for something. We don't want to end it with a North State championship."
Calmes said it hasn't sunk in yet that New Hope has to win two more games to win a state championship. As far as the team has come from last season, Calmes said this year's journey is even more satisfying because she has changed her outlook and has played a key role in the team's evolution.
"What if I didn't make that change and my teammates needed me in a game and I didn't show up to play like I have been lately?" Calmes said. "Would the outcome be different or would we have lost that game because I was being selfish in the beginning? I am very pleased I made that change."
n In related news, Starkville High point guard Blair Schaefer and New Hope High guard/forward Shemar Johnson were selected for the Mississippi Senior and Junior All-Star games.
Schaefer, who signed to play basketball at Mississippi State for her father, Vic, join MSU signee Victoria Vivians, of Scott Central, in the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star game Friday, March 21, in Jackson. Johnson will play in the Mississippi Sports Medicine North/South Junior All-Star game Friday, March 28, in Jackson.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.