COLUMBUS – The Starkville Academy girl's basketball team did something Saturday that no Lady Volunteers team has ever done.
Starkville Academy defeated East Rankin Academy 61-35 to win the Class AAA, Division II State Tournament. It is the first girls state title in school history.
"It's a really big deal for these kids," SA head coach Glenn Schmidt said. "They deserve it and they have worked very, very hard for it. I'm so proud of them, their parents and their whole support system. It is very important."
The Lady Vols found themselves down 4-0 after the Lady Patriots scored the first four points of the game.
"We were just a little excited starting off, and we weren't playing quite our normal ball," SA junior Anna Lea Little said. "When we settled down, we played really well."
The Lady Vols went on a 6-0 run to take a 6-4 lead before East Rankin made a shot at the buzzer to tie it at 6-6 after one quarter of play.
"At the very beginning when we saw they were in the 2-3 zone, we had a few hiccups," Schmidt said. "We don't normally get played a zone, but it was a good strategy. We adjusted to what they were doing, we got into our game and our defense."
The defense stepped up for the lack of offense in the first quarter and kept the SA where they needed to be.
Senior point guard Anna Prestridge was the leader of the defense as she recorded three steals that led to easy baskets in transition.
"We knew what we needed to do," Schmidt said. "We needed to force direction and (Prestridge) did it. She is our unsung hero."
Prestridge knows her role on the team and knows how important her defensive efforts are to the Lady Vols.
"I try to be a role model for my team and I try to play the best I can," Prestridge said. "It seems like when I play good defense, everybody is pumped up and we start playing well."
The offense got going in the second quarter for Starkville Academy.
Little opened the second period by knocking down a 3-pointer and breaking the tie. The Lady Vols never gave up that lead.
"She missed her first couple of shots," Schmidt said of Little. "The maturity level that she is playing at, (missing shots) didn't change her. She is playing maturely and she just kept on. She is a fantastic shooter. She worked very hard to be that shooter. She has worked on her game since she was very, very little."
The Lady Vols outscored the Lady Patriots 23-4 in the second quarter and took a 29-10 lead into the locker room at halftime.
For the second game in a row, sophomore Nora Kathryn Carroll could not find her shot. It is something she is not going to dwell on and something that did not change her attitude.
"I was just focused in on getting the state championship and winning," Carroll said.
Starkville Academy entered the final quarter with a 44-23 lead.
Excitement could be seen up and down the SA bench in the final seconds as they knew the title was there.
"I can't explain it. It's amazing," Carroll said. "It is so exciting for us to be able to win this. I'm really happy that we did."
Hard work and unselfish play has been the theme for Starkville Academy all year and the Lady Vols are glad their hard work payed off.
"It feels awesome," Prestridge said. "We have been working so hard in all the practices. We worked really hard preseason and during the season and it just feels great to finally get the win."
Although they won a title, the season is not over for the Lady Volunteers.
"We are so excited right now, but we also know we have two more we can win so we are thinking about next week and we are excited for that too," Little said.
SA competes in the Class AAA State Tournament this week and plays Presbyterian Christian in the first round.
An overall Mississippi Association of Independent Schools title is something the Lady Vols, depending on the next tournament, will play for in two weeks.
Starkville Academy had four players, Little, Carroll, Prestridge and Sallie Kate Richardson, on the All-Tournament team.
Little led the Lady Vols with 18 points, while Tiffany Huddleston added 12 points and Carroll chipped in eight points. SA improved to 32-5 for the season.
East Rankin was led by Karley Goghlan's 13 points.