After nearly a month off the St. Mary’s girls’ basketball team didn’t miss a beat as the Pirates stepped back onto the court Friday, and ultimately claimed a 49-point win over Vanguard in their 3A Tri-Peaks opener.
But this time the team’s biggest cheerleader, coach Mike Burkett, was back on the sideline. Burkett was on administrative leave through the first five games of the season, but in his first game back Burkett coached the Pirates to a dominant 75-26 win over the Coursers.
“It really is good to be back,” said Burkett, who takes over the undefeated top-ranked Class 3A program in the state.
Burkett was placed on administrative leave in mid-to-late October according to St. Mary’s principal Dave Hyland, but after a lengthy investigation Burkett was reinstated Dec. 20 as the investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Much like the first five games of the season, the Pirates, the reigning 3A state champions, started fast, putting Vanguard in a 16-0 hole before the Coursers could find the net late in the first quarter.
“It was just so good to get back at it, and having such a good start to the season and continuing it on like this was great,” said junior captain Josephine Howery. “Our start gave us a lot of energy and we wanted to keep it up. The crowd was loud and it was a fun atmosphere so we just wanted to keep up the effort and attitude.”
Howery scored a career-high 26 points in the win, and had four steals in the first quarter alone. Three other Pirates scored in double figures with Seneca Hackley putting up 14, Catherine Cummings 12 and freshman Ellie Hartman coming off the bench to score 10.
Earlier this year Burkett described his team as a "young group capable of great things," and it showed Friday as the junior-laden group used its experience and speed to fend off the then-4-1 Vanguard squad.
“It’s hard to defend against the weapons that we have,” Burkett said. “They’re all pretty much juniors but they’re pretty seasoned veterans, and they’re defending state champions so they understand what it takes to get to that level.”
Howery said getting younger players experience early is a part of the "Lady Pirate legacy" that she hopes they can continue.
“I think it’s important to get everyone experience and that’s why we want everyone playing and our younger girls coming in,” Howery said. “It’s a great experience, it’s fun to be a lady Pirate and we just want to continue that.”
Although Burkett was away from the team for the first two months of the season, he was still involved behind the scenes and studied each game film as the season went on.
“I knew the little things and my son (Kyle Burkett) was coaching so we talked a lot,” Burkett said. “Kyle did a great job. He’s been around basketball all his life and I’m really proud of the coaching staff for taking over and doing things really well.”
Vanguard was led by Breanna Swann with nine points, seven in the third quarter alone. Alexis Garcia followed with eight points.