Kossuth's Zoe Essary (copy)

Zoe Essary hopes to be a leader for Class 3A champion Kossuth after a strong showing as a freshman in last season’s state tournament.

MYRTLE Zoe Essary was three months and a couple hundred miles removed from the big stage, but you wouldn’t have known it by watching her play.

During summer league action on Thursday, the Kossuth guard notched 13 points and eight rebounds in a 34-31 loss to Tupelo. The rising sophomore was the most consistent player on the floor and provided evidence that her breakout performance during the Class 3A state tournament was no fluke.

At the Mississippi Coliseum in early March, Essary scored 45 points over two games to lead the Lady Aggies to their first championship. In the final, she scored 16 of her game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter as Kossuth rallied past Belmont.

Essary averaged 9.7 points per game on the season, including 16.4 in the playoffs.

“Every game we played, it seemed like she had a little bit more confidence,” coach Angie Malone said. “She’s building on her confidence each day.”

Relax, just do it

Essary’s exploits in Jackson have carried over into the offseason. The biggest benefit she’s experienced from those two games?

“I seem more relaxed, honestly,” Essary said.

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t remain a fiery competitor. After the loss to Tupelo on Thursday, Essary was visibly disappointed.

“I’m going to try to win either way, it doesn’t matter what type of game it is,” she said.

More important than the result, though, was the test Kossuth got from Tupelo. The Lady Wave have a strong stable of quick guards, and that’s not something the Lady Aggies can simulate in practices.

“Any time we can play an athletic team, we definitely want to jump on it and play them,” Malone said, “because it’s going to make us better handling the ball and keeping our eyes up and focusing on calling plays when somebody’s in your face and reacting more.”

Kossuth is also looking to get physically stronger. Malone said her girls have been hitting the weight room, due to the fact they “got tossed around a lot last year,” she said.

Another challenge for Essary and the Lady Aggies is properly handling their success. Kossuth must replace two starters, Morgan Hodum and Madison Starling. Hodum was the team’s leading scorer and a third-team All-Area selection.

Essary is putting some onus on herself to fill those shoes.

“I just hope I can be the leader the team needs,” she said, “like Morgan was last year.”

brad.locke@journalinc.com Twitter: @bradlocke

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