Seasoned Lady Saints set

Published 8:05 pm Thursday, December 5, 2013

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s girls’ basketball team is coming off a successful season and essentially the same team is back this winter, looking for more than it got last year.

For their 2012-13 campaign, the Lady Saints went 18-10 and advanced to the second round of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association state tournament.

NSA sophomore Harper Birdsong will be a leader for the Lady Saints again this year, drawing praise from her coach as the team’s best all-around player.

NSA sophomore Harper Birdsong will be a leader for the Lady Saints again this year, drawing praise from her coach as the team’s best all-around player.

NSA has two main goals for this year. One is “to win the (Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools), which I think is a realistic goal,” Lady Saints head coach Kim Aston said. “It’s not going to be an easy one, but it’s realistic.”

Email newsletter signup

The second is “to make it further in the state tournament than we did last year,” she said.

The team lost only one player from last year’s team due to graduation — Tori Lauder.

The 2013-14 squad is laden with upperclassmen, including five seniors and four juniors. Three sophomores round out the roster.

Familiar faces will lead the charge.

“I really think that we have four kids on our team that are all-conference caliber,” Aston said.

Leading that group will be sophomore guard Harper Birdsong.

“I think Harper is by far our best all-around player,” Aston said.

As a freshman, Birdsong averaged 11.1 points, 5.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds and two steals per game. She was also second on the team with 22 blocks.

“Jessica Pieroni is our top offensive threat,” Aston said.

Pieroni, a senior guard/forward, averaged a team-high 17 points per game last year.

Senior forward Kaylor Nash will continue to be a force on the boards and on defense after leading the team with eight rebounds and 2.9 steals per game as a junior. Aston said Nash “is a difference-maker because she’s so athletic and physical,” and her offensive skills have improved, as well.

NSA will look for senior guard Macy Mears to continue providing points from the perimeter.

“Macy is our best three-point shooter,” Aston said. She made 25 shots from beyond the arc last season.

The Lady Saints’ post presence will be led by sophomore center Caroline Hogg and junior forward Caylin Harris. Hogg has grown about an inch since last year and is now about 6 feet 3 inches tall. She will probably rotate back and forth in the starting five with Harris.

“If (opponents) have post players that step out and play on the perimeter, then Caylin will probably start,” Aston said.

Harris has come on strong in the pre-season.

“I think volleyball gave her a lot of confidence coming into this season,” Aston said, alluding to Harris’ key role in that team’s state championship-winning season.

Aston felt the same boost applied to junior guard Bridget Murphy, who was the volleyball team’s libero. She will contribute off the bench.

Last season’s role players will have expanded participation this time around, including junior forward Sarah Higinbotham.

“I look forward to her having a good year this year,” Aston said. She compared her to Nash because of her similar athleticism.

Overall, Aston is pleased with her team’s depth.

“I feel like we have a good strong eight or nine (players), and we definitely have four kids offensively that are capable of scoring double figure games, it’s just a matter of if we can put it all together,” she said.

This team’s biggest challenges will come in beating schools it has lost to for years, like Cape Henry Collegiate School, and in playing well against physical teams that apply heavy pressure, Aston said.

Scrimmages have already shown Aston that her players are better handling those pressure defenses.

She said the Lady Saints will open up tonight with a big test against visiting Williamsburg Christian Academy. Tip-off is at 5:30 p.m.