Expectations ‘higher’ for Lady Saints

Published 8:12 pm Thursday, November 22, 2012

NSA junior guard Jessica Pieroni drives up the court with the ball during preseason practice on Monday evening in the Camp Gym.

The Nansemond-Suffolk Academy varsity girls’ basketball team enters this season with multiple reasons to be confident.

This year’s team features two players who have gained interest from Division I schools and two other players who are likely Division I-caliber athletes.

“Our expectations are a lot higher than they’ve been in the last few years,” Lady Saints head coach Kim Aston said. “It took me five years to get to the point where we were last year.”

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NSA went 18-8 last season, tying for fourth place in the Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools and making it to the state tournament, where they lost to St. Anne’s-Belfield in the opening round.

“We just have a lot of experience this year that we have not had in recent years,” Aston said. “My goal for the team is to finish in the top three and preferably higher than that.”

An important ingredient that typifies this team is many of the girls’ year-around dedication to the sport.

“I finally got a group of kids that comes to summer league in the summer, plays in the fall league, and just puts forth more time than just during basketball season,” Aston said.

Junior guard Jessica Pieroni is one of the two girls with Division I interest.

“Jessica has put in a whole lot of work in the past three years, four years,” Aston said. “She’s probably improved more than any kid I’ve ever seen. She started coming to my basketball camp when she was 5 years old, so she’s been playing a long time.”

Pieroni was the leading scorer for last year’s team.

“She averaged 16 a game and Harper (Birdsong) averaged 14 a game,” Aston said.

Birdsong is a freshman guard who already has D-I schools taking notice and was the second-leading scorer for NSA’s varsity team last year.

“So, offensively, they’re our best two players, but Kaylor (Nash), athletically, can be a difference-maker because she can rebound, she can play defense, she’s quick, she can put the ball on the floor. She runs the floor well. She’s a good athlete.”

Nash is a junior guard/forward who has a strong chance of playing volleyball at a D-I school, but has athletic ability that makes her dangerous in other sports as well.

“She’s by far probably one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached,” Aston said. “She can do anything.”

Junior guard Macy Mears has similar D-I possibilities in softball, but has proven to be a vital part of Lady Saints basketball too.

“She’s run the point for us since her eighth grade year,” Aston explained.

The team has a wealth of experience and yet only one senior on its roster — forward Tori Lauder.

The Lady Saints will miss the contribution of two girls that graduated last year.

“We had Morgan Lokie, and she played point a lot of for us last year with Macy, but we lost our top two rebounders in her and Sarah Baldwin, and we lost a lot of toughness on the floor in those two,” Aston said.

This prompted Coach Aston to reflect on what will be one of the 2012-13 squad’s bigger challenges.

“So, if we have one area that we really have to do well this year, it would be rebounding, because the kids that we have right now have not been big rebounders, and so that’s the goal right now,” she said.

Aston has special confidence in this group, however, because she senses her desire for success is held equally by the players as well.

“I have high expectations for them, but I think they have high expectations for themselves,” Aston said.

The Lady Saints begin their season on Nov. 27 by playing St. Catherine’s School in Richmond.