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Published: Sunday, 12/26/2010

Start trio strives for elusive state title

The best season in Start's girls basketball history occurred two years ago when Maleeka Kynard, Azia Bishop, and Jaymie Jackson were underclassmen.

Kynard and Bishop were talented sophomores with varsity experience, while Jackson was a wide-eyed freshman when the Spartans played for the Division I state championship for the first time in school history.

The Spartans finished the 2008-09 season 22-4 overall, which included winning a City League and a district title before coming up short of the ultimate season-ending prize by losing 52-38 to defending state champion Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame in the state title game.

That historic run all the way to Columbus is something that hasn't been forgotten by the Spartans' talented trio. They remember the excitement and thrills that came along with advancing through each round of the playoffs. They remember the crowds and the support and the many well-wishers that seemed to grow with every victory, especially the final 14 in a row.

They also haven't completely forgotten the disappointment that came after losing to perennial state title contender Notre Dame at Value City Arena.

All of which serves as motivation for Start's own version of the triplets.

"We all have the heart and the desire to win a state championship," said Kynard, a 5-foot-6 guard who is the most talented player of the group. "We know we can get there.

"I think we have a lot more heart than [the 2008-09 team], and we're more hungry."

Kynard has already committed to play in college at Ohio State University. Her desire is for Start to make another season-ending trip to Columbus before she officially begins playing college home games on the court at Value City Arena.

The Spartans have opened the season by winning their first four games, including an impressive 58-42 drubbing of two-time Division II state champion Hathaway Brown. The Spartans' triplets combined for 41 of Start's points. Jackson, a 5-10 guard, led the way with 16 points.

However, Kynard showed her ability to score quickly and in bunches when she produced 11 of her 15 points in the final eight minutes of the game. Bishop, a 6-2 post, also displayed her capabilities to score whenever necessary, producing seven of her 10 points during the final five minutes to help the Spartans pull away from the Blazers.

Brown coach Paul Barlow called the Spartans one of the best teams in Division I.

Even though Brown is a D-II champion, Kynard recognized the early season victory as another step in the right direction for a team wanting to do at the D-I level what Brown has been able to do at the D-II level.

"It shows we're improving as a team," Kynard said.

Start's next time on the basketball court will take place when the Spartans face Marion Harding at 6 p.m. Monday in one of five games slated for The Blade High School Basketball Classic at the Huntington Center.

The Spartans finished 18-5 overall a year ago, including a 10-1 City League mark. Bishop, who is committed to attend Kentucky next fall, is coming off a junior season in which she averaged eight points and seven rebounds.

Bishop's length and all-around skill could lead to her averaging double-figures scoring and rebounding in her final season at Start. Some contend Bishop's play around the basket is as deciding a factor as any regarding how far this year's team will venture at season's end.

Kynard is among that group.

"The key for us is the ball needs to get into the inside," Kynard said. "We need to get the ball into Bishop because that opens things up and opens up shots for us on the outside."

Bishop also has plenty of respect for her teammates and believes everyone on the team has a role to fill and they're all important to making this season a memorable success. However, Bishop said playing alongside Kynard for four years and Jackson for three years has helped to establish a strong bond among the group.

After hundreds of practices and dozens of games, they've built a rapport where they instinctively know what each one may be thinking during the course of a game.

"Over the last three years we've had good chemistry on the court, but it's more than that, we're like sisters," said Bishop of her relationship with teammates Kynard and Jackson.

As for how much success the Spartans can obtain under the guidance of their three team leaders, Bishop shares the same thoughts as Kynard and Jackson.

"I think we're pretty good, and we work hard," Bishop said. "I believe we can go to states if we keep working hard."

Jackson, who averaged 12 points last season, has another year remaining and already has attracted the interest of Division I colleges. She's a capable scorer and defender with her length and quickness.

Similar to Kynard, Jackson has the ball-handling abilities to score driving to the basket or setting up others for easier baskets. She entered this season focused on helping the Spartans reach their goals by taking a more optimistic approach to dealing with potential challenges that may arise over the course of a season.

"I think we do have a chance to win states, but we have to stay positive and play as a team," Jackson said. "I've been working on being more positive and playing smarter."

Contact Donald Emmons at: demmons@theblade.com or 419-724-6302.



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