Tara Mullinax was thrust into the Class 1A state championship game against two-time defending state champion McIntosh, which was riding a 64-game winning streak at the time.
Never once did the then-Spring Garden freshman appear bewildered by the bright lights and the big stage at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex. She just went in late in the first quarter and stroked a 3-pointer to extend a run as the Lady Panthers went on to win the game and finish the season undefeated.
Her propensity to remain poised and produce under pressure persisted throughout her career on the hardwood, which was capped off by yet another first-team selection to the Alabama Sports Writers Association all-state squad, which was released today.
“It was a big shot for me,” Mullinax said. “Coach (Ricky) Austin relates back to that shot a lot. I knew it was a big game. Me being young, I knew if I could hit it then I could other big shots as I got older and my abilities increased.”
Mullinax, a 5-foot-11 forward, averaged 21.5 points and 8.8 rebounds as a senior while leading the Lady Panthers to a 24-8 record and a trip to the Northeast Regional final where they fell to Ragland. She’s one of 13 players from The Star’s coverage area to receive all-state recognition, including seven-first teamers.
She’s joined on the girls Class 1A team by Jacksonville Christian’s Katy Miller, who averaged 20-plus points a game to lead the Lady Thunder to an area title and a berth in the regional tournament.
As a junior, Mullinax hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer against Cherokee County rival Sand Rock to send the game into overtime. They’d pull away with the victory in the extra frame. She hit a triple for a game-winner against area foe Gaston as a sophomore.
Following her freshman season, when the Lady Panthers rode Paige Anderson, now at Samford, to a 36-0 record, Mullinax became Austin’s go-to-player, leading the team to a the state tournament 2010.
“She’s always had that ability,” Austin said. “She hit some big shots and made some big plays in junior high as a seventh-grader. I wasn’t really surprised. It was kind of expected.”
Anniston’s Schuessler Ware was named the state’s Class 4A Coach of the Year after guiding the Bulldogs to a 21-10 record to a third-straight trip to Final 48 state tournament where they reached the championship game, falling 44-39 to top-ranked Butler.
Woodland girls coach Larry Strain was also named Coach of the Year. He took the Lady Bobcats to the state title game for the first time in school history a season after losing daughter Courtney, now a freshman at Auburn, the state’s all-time leading scorer.
Woodland’s Leah Strain, Ranburne’s Julia Daniel (2A) and Jacksonville’s Lacey Buchanon (Class 4A) were also first-team selections. Anniston’s Patricia Pickens was a second-team choice to the Class 4A squad while Ragland’s Emily Church (1A) and Saks’s Addesha Collins received honorable mention nods.
It’s a been a banner week for Anniston’s Lasheddrick Edmondson. The 5-10 junior point guard was named to the first-team all-state squad just days after being tabbed for this North-South game, which showcases the state’s best seniors to be.
Edmondson was the catalyst, averaging 20 points a game, for a Bulldogs’ team that reached the state finals a year after losing some 10 players from 2009’s state semifinals squad.
Piedmont’s Jamaal Johnson, a two time Northeast Regional MVP, took home first-team honors in Class 3A after guiding the Bulldogs to a second-straight state semifinals appearance. His teammate junior Sloan Garner, also chosen to the North-South game, and Saks guard/forward Caleb Duke, a University of Alabama-Huntsville were honorable mentions.
Talladega’s Jarmkius Truss was an honorable mention in Class 5A.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.