July 22, 2014 7:18:45 PM
STARKVILLE - Blair Schaefer feels like she got an ample amount of coaching during her two seasons as point guard for the Starkville High School girls basketball team.
On the court, Schaefer was instructed by Starkville High School coach Kristie Williams. At home, Schaefer was encouraged by Vic Schaefer, who just completed his second season as head coach at Mississippi State.
Both proved to be effective mentors while Blair Schaefer proved to be an effective leader herself. With an average of 18.7 points and 5.4 assists per game, Starkville High made the rare return to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A North State playoffs.
For this success, Schaefer is being chosen today as The Dispatch's Large Schools All-Area Girls Basketball Co-Player of the Year.
"The last two seasons at Starkville High were very successful," Blair Schaefer said. "I was able to help rebuild a program and help a team make a new name for itself. The basketball program struggled here to be good. But I brought many aspects that helped my game individually and also helped my team to improve. We basically wanted to show that we were not the team that others made us out to be."
Being raised as the daughter of a senior college basketball coach, Blair Schaefer always knew the moving van was one phone call away. Prior to coming to Starkville, Vic Schaefer spent nine seasons as associate head coach at Texas A&M. The Aggies won a national championship during that time, while the elder Schaefer was nicknamed the "Secretary of Defense."
"Every year in high school and middle school, we always knew there was a chance (of moving)," Blair Schaefer said. "We (Blair and twin brother Logan) were mentally prepared for moving, because we felt like it would happen. My dad didn't want to move us during our high school years though, so really once I got in high school, I didn't think it would happen. But when the Mississippi State offer came along, you had to do it.
"We told him that it was only high school and we would make new friends easily. I am so proud of him and this opportunity. You have to say yes to it. Then we just move along and adapt. Moving was never that big a fear, because I knew I was still going to play basketball on a team where they would help me and I would help them. I had the work ethic and determination to play on the next level, so changing schools was not going to change that."
Williams remembers vividly the day Blair Schaefer came into her life.
"Not only is Blair an outstanding athlete but she is such a great person," William said. "You always hear the phrase 'coach on the floor.' You can't have enough of those. Blair knew what to do in every situation. She knew how to take advantage of opportunities. She made herself better every day, but she also made the team better every day."
After playing two seasons as a two-guard in Texas, Schaefer was asked to play point guard at Starkville. While the position was not a natural fit, she worked hard to be the best point guard in this state's highest classification.
"The best thing that happened at Starkville High was that I was able to work on my ball-handling skills," Blair Schafer said. "Being able to play the point helped me become a much better ball handler. I always had the bigger picture in mind. The competition allowed me to develop my skills at the highest level in Mississippi. The competition was better. Looking at the bigger perspective, this was an opportunity to help me fully develop into a player ready for college ball.
"Kristie Williams is awesome. She is a great person. She allowed me to do so many things on the court. She never limited me. She told me to do what I can do. When you have that type of confidence from your head coach, it makes you feel unstoppable as a player."
Blair Schaefer emerged as the team's leading scorer despite being the top priority of the other team's defensive game plan. In her junior season, Starkville managed a winning season but lost in the opening round of the region tournament. An ability to open the post for more offensive production was the big key to this year's breakthrough.
The key to performing at a high level for Blair Schaefer involved her understanding the focus of the opponent being squarely on her.
"You have to mentally prepare yourself before every game," Blair Schaefer said. "You have to feel like everyone is out to get you. The officials are not going to be lenient if they think you are the best player on the court. It's just a mental thing.
"You have to prepare for the worst. At the same time, you have to be able to perform. You have to be able to take your game to another level. You have to be able to play no matter how they defend you.
"Our success this year though happened because we really worked on helping our post players to grow. With their improved play, the guards got better. I think the younger players really learned a lot of things from this past season's success that they can carry forward."
Blair Schaefer also hopes to continue her success on the next level, as she prepares to play for her dad at Mississippi State. It is not an uncommon denominator, as Blair's mother Holly coached Blair as an assistant at Starkville High.
"A lot of people say playing for you dad must be awkward," said Blair Schaefer, who returns to the 2-guard spot at MSU. "However, he is my dad. A lot of people do not have the relationship that we have.
"We can separate father from daughter and coach from daughter. I am really looking forward to this and I know he is too. To be able to come in here and be part of a Top 25 recruiting class is also exciting.
"We really have a great shot to do some special things. My job is to come in here and help my team get as far as possible. We are headed to Europe here in a couple of weeks (for a preseason exhibition tour). Then we have a chance to play in the (preseason Women's National Invitational Tournament). Playing Division I basketball in the (Southeastern Conference) is going to be a dog fight, day in and day out. I am really eager to get started."
Meanwhile, Vic Schaefer will have a better seat for Blair's games now. While at Starkville, the elder Schaefer roamed baselines and barked out encouragement to his daughter. Postgame, he would point out things that she could have looked for in different situations. Blair Schaefer said the extra coaching became rarer this season.
"We had a mutual understanding," Blair Schaefer said. "By the time, you reach your senior year, you have played high school ball for four years. You are pretty much the player you are going to become."
Williams appreciated all of the playing and coaching by all of the Schaefers in each of the past two seasons.
"It is a special basketball family," Williams said. "I feel fortunate that I was able to go along for the ride the last couple of seasons."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter