Lady Saints looking to pick up the pace

Published 12:45 am Saturday, November 29, 2008

The first year for head coach Kim Aston back with Nansemond-Suffolk’s girls basketball team was bound to be a tough one.

Aston was taking over a Lady Saint team which was 3-21 the season before. She had a largely young squad to work with, highlighted by Aston selecting eighth-grader Virginia Hassell to take up her team’s point guard duties.

All signs pointed to a typical rebuilding season. Instead, NSA’s progress wasn’t in the form of moral victories or baby steps as Aston guided NSA to a 12-12 record and a 5-4 Tidewater Conference mark which placed the Lady Saints fifth in the TCIS.

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Last season, Aston instilled a new work ethic and the Lady Saints played both patiently and physically, even when facing teams with superior talent.

NSA held Norfolk Collegiate, which went on to finish second in the state led by current North Carolina guard She’la White, to 56 points in a 56-37 loss. The 56 points was the most the Lady Saints allowed an opponent all season. Some NSA victories came with opposing teams managing only, for example, 15, 20, 23 and 24 points.

With the Lady Saints buying into Aston’s expectations last season, now the former Lady Saint, then Old Dominion, player is attempting to mold the way the Lady Saints will play to the talent she knows she has.

That starts with the top three scorers from last season’s team who make up NSA’s starting backcourt.

“I don’t think there’s another team in our league with three better guards,” said Aston.

With that in mind, Aston says a faster pace and more full-court pressure will be part of NSA’s attack.

Hassell, now a wily freshman, was the Lady Saints’ top scorer and an honorable mention All-TCIS player in 2007-08.

Aston calls Hassell, “an outstanding player with potential to play at the next level.”

Jenna Starkey, a senior, is a three-year starter heading into this season. Starkey’s been the Lady Saints’ top athlete since her sophomore season. There have been many contests in the past two seasons in which Starkey led the Lady Saints in steals, assists and rebounds, while defending the opponent’s top scorer. Starkey was first team All-TCIS last year.

Senior Morgan Newhall developed into the top shooter for the Lady Saints last season, averaging 35 percent from three-point range and 10.1 points per game.

While the team might be guard-heavy, and Aston anticipates playing four guards on the court sometimes this season, the three starting guards actually add height to NSA’s squad, as Hassell, Starkey and Newhall are 5-foot-7 or 5-foot-8.

“We have a lot of good returning players and we feel very confident,” said Newhall.

“We’re going to run and gun,” said Newhall. “We’re going to score a lot of points.”

Six-foot-3 center Chloe Foster would have been a sophomore this season for the Lady Saints, but her family moved during the summer.

Aston has two players in the post who improved last season with 5-foot-11 junior Grace Saunders and 5-foot-10 senior Ashley Anderson. Saunders started last season as a sophomore and was NSA’s top rebounder with 6.5 per game; Aston counts Saunders as her best offensive player in the post.

“Our biggest problem is our lack of depth,” said Aston.

The top reserve Aston points to is sophomore Kelsey Ritter, who’s been an all-conference and all-state pitcher for NSA’s softball team for two seasons already.

“She’s clearly a very good athlete. Defensively, she’s showing she’s very strong and that helps us a lot, especially if we’re going to try to play with a faster tempo.”

NSA scrimmaged against Western Branch last week and the result, a six-point loss, was mostly encouraging, said Aston.

“We’re not going to face a team that’s more athletic than they are,” said Aston.

Aston was pleased with how her team took care of the ball against Western Branch’s pressure defense and was able to put some pressure back on the Southeastern District team.

“We’re going to have a winning season, there’s no doubt about that,” said Starkey.

“I feel like the team is closer, more together, than our teams in the past. Each player trusts the rest of the team a lot,” said Starkey.