CLINTON – Signed, sealed and delivered in orange and blue.
Defeating Presbyterian Christian School 54 -33, Starkville Academy wrapped its season with a 43-0 record and as the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Overall State champions.
“There is only one team that wins this and everybody that’s playing wants to,” Lady Vols’ coach Glenn Schmidt said. “Because of who they are, how hard they’ve worked, their athletic ability, their belief in each other, our fans, our support and everything that happened here (Saturday), that just puts icing on the cake.”
The success the Lady Vols saw on Saturday didn't just happen overnight instead it is something the team has been focused on since the very beginning.
“It feels amazing because we’ve been working for this all year,” junior Nora Kathryn Carroll said. “We’ve worked our hardest on everything and we’ve just had to focus on everything and play one game at a time.”
That focus took on a whole new meaning in Saturday’s contest. Having faced and defeated PCS three previous times, it would have been easy for Starkville Academy to have been complacent, but Schmidt and her team knew how strong the Lady Bobcats were. That knowledge pushed the Lady Vols to focus on playing their game and getting the job done.
Schmidt had a specific message for her team before the game.
"I usually say ‘we have to match the other team’s intensity,’ but (Saturday) I said ‘make them match yours,’” Schmidt said. “No discredit to any other team we’ve played, but these were the two best basketball teams in the state in my opinion and everybody else we played made us better. PCS is playing as good as any other team in the state right now.”
Senior Tiffany Huddleston echoed her coach on how tough the Lady Bobcats are.
“I have a lot of respect for them,” Huddleston said. “They match up really well against us. They are a hustling team, and have a really good coach. It didn’t surprise me that they were here.”
Each time PCS and Starkville Academy squared off a different game was produced and Saturday was no different.
“This (was) our fourth time to play PCS,” Lady Vol senior Anna Lea Little said. “We blew them out once, had a close game at PCS and then played pretty bad at JA. (Saturday) we got the job done.”
Starkville Academy's journey to getting the job done began in unfamiliar territory. With 3:03 remaining in the first period, the team trailed by seven as PCS held a 9-2 lead.
Being behind sparked something in the Lady Vols as they went on a 10-1 run highlighted by a Huddleston 3-pointer to give SA its first lead of the game. Following the impressive run, the Lady Vols closed the period leading 12-10.
Starkville Academy continued the first period run right into the second extending its lead to 24-12 with 1:31 left to play before intermission, but the Lady Vols were not done yet.
Maggie Proffitt hit a shot moments before Huddleston assisted Little with a huge 3-pointer to close the first half with Starkville Academy leading 29-14.
The team may have trailed in the beginning, but Proffitt said that only pushed the team as the game progressed.
“We were definitely motivated,” Proffitt said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game. We got behind in the first quarter and just had to keep fighting.”
The battle continued right into the third period as Starkville Academy returned shooting lights out.
Scoring the first eight points of the second half, the Lady Vols extended their lead to 37-14.
PCS rebounded to outscore Starkville Academy 9-6 closing the period down by 20 as the Lady Vols held a 43-23 lead.
Heading into the final period with a 20-point lead, it seemed apparent that Starkville Academy would get the repeat. The final buzzer sounded to make it official.
The last basket of the game came with just over 3 minutes remaining and with about a minute left Schmidt pulled the Lady Vols starters to a standing ovation and a multitude of cheers from the Starkville Academy faithful in the crowd.
The excitement of the crowd continued for the remainder of the ballgame and beyond as the Lady Vols knocked off PCS for a fourth time and became MAIS Overall State champions.
Proffitt led SA in scoring with 17 points, while Sallie Kate Richardson was second with 12 points.
“It’s been very exciting,” Proffitt said. “I never dreamed coming over that we would be undefeated 43-0.
It’s just an amazing feeling. I’ve made lifelong friends that I’ll never forget.”
For Carroll, the culmination of the season was “bittersweet” because the junior knows this is the last time the entire squad would be on the court together.
“We are losing our seniors and we are going to miss them very much,” Carroll said. “We have just been really close as a team and it’s been a great year.”
Little, who scored nine points and posted six rebounds, echoed her teammate on how close the team was and what this year at Starkville Academy has meant to the senior.
“There is no better way to do it,” Little said. “Going out on top, only one team can say that and we’ve been able to say it two years in a row so that is pretty amazing.
“It’s just been really fun. We are a really close team and really support each other.”
Huddleston ended what she called an “incredible experience” with nine points and 10 rebounds.
“We couldn’t ask for a better way to go out than on top,” Huddleston said. “It’s never been done at Starkville Academy and something we had all wanted. We talked it up before the game. We’ve worked so hard and it’s just one more game to put under our belt.”
The players were all certainly exuberant after getting the victory, but another emotion was flowing through their coach as she spoke on what this squad and its seniors have meant to Starkville Academy.
“It’s very fitting for them that the season ended like this,” Schmidt said. “I don’t know if I can talk about those three seniors. To the program, they have been great role models. I’ve told people over and over ‘if you want to know what leadership looks like – look at them.’ They lead by example. They lead by how hard they work in practice. They are Christian women.
“Look where they came from. Tiffany has been with us since kindergarten, then we get Anna Lea who transfers in after being home-schooled, then Maggie comes. For those three to come together and put Starkville Academy first, says a whole lot.”
Schmidt said “it was fitting” that the Lady Vols season ended the way it did because of all the hard work they put in.
One more thing was noticed by Schmidt, who is also the athletic director of Starkville Academy.
Before the game as Schmidt was preparing her team for the game, she noticed just how present the Volunteer faithful were.
“I was sitting there and I finally turned around and thought, 'my gosh it’s packed with orange people, people that were pulling for us,'” Schmidt said. “It’s huge and says a lot about our Starkville Academy family and the kind of girls that these girls are to draw that kind of attention. It helped us tremendously and I appreciate it so very much.”