Jeff Pardue pauses for a moment to reflect, choosing his words carefully.
The Maryville College womens basketball coach then speaks in even tones of what Katie Saxe has meant to the Lady Scots this season and where the blossoming 6-foot-1 junior could be in a year.
"Shes athletic. Shes got good hands. If she could get
even stronger, she could have a fantastic senior year," Pardue
said. "Im talking possibly national recognition."
Making the leap from a high school player who never made all-district to a collegiate All-American isnt a road often traveled, but then few have been able to match the strides Saxe has taken in three seasons at Maryville.
As the Lady Scots (16-3) ready to host LaGrange College in a Great South Athletic Conference tilt on Saturday at Boydson Baird Gymnasium at 2 p.m. - the Maryville and LaGrange men follow at 4 - Saxe is averaging 11.7 points per game, second only to senior Summer Daltons 14.4 points per outing. Saxes 7.3 rebounds per contest is a Lady Scot best.
The former Maryville High School Lady Rebel is one of eight Lady Scots shooting 40 percent or better from the field, paced by a 53 percent accuracy rate from junior guard Melissa Uner. Anchoring Maryville defensively, Saxe leads the way with 17 blocks, ranking third in steals.
"I think I just have a lot more determination now and I work harder, both on and off the court, to improve my game," Saxe said.
Long, with exceptional quickness, Saxe was used sparingly in a guard-oriented offense as a Lady Rebel. Her skills werent what they should have been, she said. Former Lady Scot coach Dee Bell, who recruited Saxe out of Maryville High, wasted no time, she said, in correcting the discrepancy.
"Before I started school (at Maryville College), coach Bell was all about teaching me footwork," Saxe said. "We would mainly work on post moves and it could be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour."
Averaging 7.1 points while shooting 46 percent from the field, Saxe began to become a force in Maryvilles offense under Bells tutelage a year ago. Her minutes were up. Her rebounding, by seasons end, was the teams best.
Not bad for a player who didnt take up the game until the eighth grade.
"Now, Im starting to understand the game that much better," Saxe said.
Upon taking the Maryville job last fall, Pardue said he immediately noticed the potential of a low-post pairing of Saxe and sophomore Natalie Munday, most valuable player of the conference tournament a year ago.
"The first time I saw (Saxe) play I liked her game," Pardue said. "I told her, I see a lot of potential there."
When Munday was slowed by a calf injury in the seasons early going, turning that potential into realized gains became a pressing need. Saxe has more than met the challenge, Pardue said.
"I think its been good for her to be in a position where shes had to be depended on," he said.
Favoring the up-tempo style of his predecessor, Pardues offense is decidedly inside/out in the halfcourt. In Dalton, Uner and fellow perimeter threats Alicia Brown and Lauren Fleming, Maryville has the shooters for the offense. More assertive play from Saxe, along with a strong senior campaign from forward Kim Seal, 10.6 points per game, has kept the necessary inside component in tact.
Munday is expected back from injury soon, heightening Pardues hopes of seeing the Saxe/Munday inside duo come full to life.
"Thats where we want to go," he said. "I really think if
Natalie can get healthy and be in shape, and we can get into the
national tournament, anything can happen."
With a full compliment of players, Maryville has proven marvelously
diverse this season. Trailing by 10 at the half on Tuesday, the Lady
Scots caught and then roared Milligan College, 71-59, in a barrage of
inside/outside scoring. Four players finished in double figures, with
Dalton ripping the netting for a team-best 18. Saxe led the way
underneath with 15 points and eight caroms, with Brown going 3-of-4
from 3-point range en route to finishing with 12, Uner, 2-of-4
downtown, adding 10.
"There are a lot of people on this team capable of scoring a lot of points," Saxe said.
Talk of an All-American finish a year from now is heady stuff, she said.
"Ive thought about it," Saxe said. "That would be amazing."