Lady Raiders earn all-conference, academic awards

Published 9:38 am Saturday, February 28, 2015

Although their season came to an abrupt end last week when the Virginia Commonwealth Conference Tournament was shortened to only include the top four seeds, several Southampton Lady Raiders still walked away from the season with their heads held high.

Senior point guard Sarah Best and sophomore forward Mason Pope garnered first team all-conference honors by leading the Lady Raiders to a 10-win season, while senior center Brooke Mizelle notched all-academic distinction for her work in the classroom.

The season had several ups and downs, as Southampton Academy started the year off with a losing tournament record; muddled through winter break; went on a significant winning-streak; and ultimately didn’t have a chance to extend their season.

One constant, however, was the play of Sarah Best. Even dealing with a sprained thumb for most of the season, Best played through the pain to lead her team with 12.9 points per game.

Her most notable stretch came at the beginning of the calendar year, pitching in 16 points per game to lead the Lady Raiders to three-consecutive victories. This stretch also put the team two games above .500 for the first time all year.

When reflecting on his first year at the helm, head coach Jeff Pope gave a glowing review of Best’s senior campaign.

“She has been the heavy lifter for this team for several years, and she continued to be this year,” he said. “Every team we played prepared for Sarah, and they knew they had to stop her in order to beat us. She still averaged 13 points per game while receiving all that attention from opposing teams.”

Even though Best graduates in the spring, Pope knows that his team is in good hands with his niece, Mason, taking on that leadership role moving forward. The younger Pope averaged 11.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, leading the team in the latter category.

“She was able to steal the attention (away from Best) at times, which enabled both she and Sarah to be a good tandem,” the coach said. “Sarah has a great outside shot, and Mason was able to penetrate and get to the rim.

“If Mason began to draw too much attention, she did a great job of driving and kicking it back to Sarah for her outside shot.”

After a big win over Kenston Forest earlier this month, Pope noted a change in his niece, saying that he believes she has what it takes to become something special.

“She’s had a drastic improvement from last year to this year,” he said. “She’s been implementing different things in games, and if she keeps improving, I look for her to do well.”

Only a sophomore, Pope is on pace to become just the third girl in Southampton Academy history to score 1,000 points in her career.

Brooke Mizelle, meanwhile, is equally astute in the classroom. Among the top-rated students in her graduating class, Mizelle will be attending Salisbury College in Maryland in the fall. A stellar pitcher, Mizelle will also play softball for the Sea Gulls.

“She only played basketball for two years,” Jeffrey Pope said, pointing out that Mizelle averaged only 1.1 points per game in 18 contests this season, “but she was one of only two seniors on the team and provided great leadership in that role.”