Starkville Academy teams resume District 2-AAA action by hosting Winston Academy

Lillee Alpe

Juwon Yarbrough

Staff Writer

Friday marks the beginning of the new year for Starkville Academy basketball and it’s the beginning of the second season as District 2-AAA play resumes in full force.

The boys and girls teams had both already played two district games in the 2018 portion of the schedule against Leake and Heritage Academy, but now the stretch run of the season includes much more district flavor.

Winston Academy is the first opponent of 2019 tonight when the Volunteers welcome the Patriots Friday night beginning with a varsity girls matchup around 6 p.m., followed by the boys.

The Lady Vols (13-6) have gotten off to a strong start this year behind the play sophomore Lillie Alpe and senior Mary Peyton Passons. The duo really cut their teeth last season as they were thrown into the fire as underclassmen and they’ve come out of it even better as Allsup has been impressed with their production.

“We feel like with Lillie and Mary Peyton that we have two of the better scorers in the state,” Allsup said. “When they’re shooting the basketball and knocking down shots, we can play with a lot of people. We’re expecting a lot out of them.”

It’s helped that those two have had production from others on the team as well. Most notably Aubrey Campbell, who has been a key leader for the group in rebounding and defense and has added a scoring threat as well. Allsup is also high on junior Mary Lacy Archer’s athletic ability and sophomore Caroline Wood’s consistent progression as a post player.

Allsup said the key from there is finding players that can come off of the bench and spell his starters. They’ve had success against lesser teams without the help of the bench, but better teams have worn them down as the games have progressed.

The Lady Patriots present one of the tougher challenges of the year to this point. It’s a team with proven veteran leadership that starts with post player Lilly Sisson, who recently signed with Mississippi College.

“She’s a big, strong girl who is left-handed,” Allsup said of Sisson. “It’s going to be a key for us to limit her to one shot and don’t give her a second opportunity. They’re so good defensively and try to slow the game down to keep it a low-scoring game. If we get in a slow game, we’ll be in trouble.”

While SA’s girls have some continuity, the boys team is still trying to find an identity.

Allsup has seen much of his experience the last two seasons graduate or bypass playing football. There are no excuses from Allsup as he made it work with his short bench last season and this year’s team is beginning to find its way.

The Vols are currently 7-8 but reeled off consecutive wins in the Columbus Christian tournament before Christmas. Allsup is hoping momentum is built off of the last few games.

“It’s been a tough year starting off,” Allsup said. “We’re trying to find the identity of the basketball team and the last two games we’re 2-0 with the group that we feel like is going to continue to be with us the rest of the year. We’re so pleased with the development and growth the last few weeks and we’re only going to get better.”

A major bright spot of the last few weeks as been newcomer Jawon Yarbrough. The sophomore is the leading scorer on the team playing the five spot and a big boost to their efforts in the post. Another sophomore playing key minutes is Dre' Frazier at point guard and senior Ben Guest has also been big at the guard spot pressuring defenses and getting to the basket.

There’s junior Miller Wilson leading the way as a spot shooter and Starkville High transfer Tanner Graves, who has helped scoring as a junior. The only returner from last season that played meaningful minutes on that team is junior Taylor Ray, who Allsup said had a slow start but is settling in.

Beyond that, SA is very young and Allsup had to move up three freshmen from junior varsity to contribute with Randall Futral, Graham Stephens and George Delk all playing both junior varsity and varsity.

Now that the first half of the schedule is out of the way, those players and their coach get a chance to see how much improvement they’ve made from the start of the season.

“We’re really looking forward to playing on the home floor and building on momentum that we got from the Christmas holidays,” Allsup said. “We really like where this team is going and hope to get better each and every week.”