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Lisa Starnes Rhoton was a four-year varsity starter at Rye Cove

Bill Lane • Feb 7, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Name: Lisa Starnes Rhoton

Born: Dec. 31, 1969

Where: Kingsport

Residence: Duffield

High School/Colleges: Rye Cove/Virginia Intermont, Clinch Valley (now Virginia-Wise)

Then: When Benny Starnes realized how sincere his daughter was about playing basketball, he gave her some valuable training.

He required Lisa to start shooting on her goal one hour before he arrived home from his job at Eastman Chemical Co.

Under his supervision, she had to make 80 percent of her shots from six designated spots on a makeshift court. Her mother, Kathy, and brother, Andy, would then set up as defenders.

When Lisa was a seventh-grader, one arm was tied behind her back to emphasize shooting with the left hand. She closed her eyes while dribbling and also maneuvered left and right around strategically placed obstacles. She spent countless hours jumping rope for agility.

While in sixth grade, she won a free throw contest at Rye Cove by hitting 30 straight. As a 14-year-old, she won a jayvee shoot-and- dribble contest at Weber City.

The diligence in her training methods paid huge dividends.

Lisa Starnes was a four-year varsity starter at Rye Cove after making the jayvee lineup as an eighth-grader. The Lady Eagles varsity went 16-9, 20-5, 22-4 and 26-2 when she played.

Her career-high point total came early — 31 as a freshman against Thomas Walker. That season ended with a 41-39 loss in the region to fledgling power Clintwood.

History repeated itself the following year. Clintwood, which went on to win the Group A state championship, beat a wobbly Rye Cove team 44-22 in the region.

Starnes came down with strep throat and walking pneumonia and didn’t practice at all that week.

Coach Dexter Egan made sure the school’s driver’s education vehicle swung by the Starnes home each day to assure her of at least a few hours in the classroom. Understandably, she had an off game against Clintwood. Kristie Love, the Eagles’ other star player, suffered a knee injury in the game.

Rye Cove also failed to reach the state tournament when the two were juniors.

Even though Starnes had her best scoring average, 18.1 ppg, as a junior, Rye Cove’s team didn’t hit the jackpot until the next season. With Starnes, Love, Courtney Williams, Tracie Williams and Kim Lane in the lineup, there was no denying the Eagles this time.

“We ran a 1-2-2 zone press almost the whole game,’’ Starnes said. “We stole the ball a lot and scored on fast breaks. We drove as much as possible, resulting in many free throws. We had to be in great shape. Dexter ran us to death in practice.’’

On Nov. 21, 1987, Rye Cove defeated defending champion George Washington Carver 61-55 for the Group A title.

Starnes, a 5-foot-5 point guard, scored 22 points against Carver after getting 20 in a 68-57 win over Buffalo Gap and another 20 in a 52-48 victory over Castlewood. Her three-game total at Salem was 62.

Against Carver, Egan utilized a clear-out play to put Starnes in one-on-one situations. She repeatedly drew fouls and sank 10 of 13 free throws in that game. Her three-game total — 22-of-28 — set a Virginia High School League state tournament record.

“We were real nervous going in,’’ Starnes said, “but after beating Buffalo Gap we felt we could win it.’’

Oct. 29 also was a special occasion for Starnes and Love. Both surpassed the 1,000-point milestone against Dryden in the Eagles’ last home game — a 90-38 victory. Starnes, whose pet shot was a jumper at the top of the key, needed six points and got those in the first half. Love lacked 18 and managed that total after intermission. Each was presented a symbolic game ball.

Rye Cove came eerily close to a perfect season.

The Eagles lost to Thomas Walker 60-59 early in the year. They were beaten 52-51 by Jonesville in the Region D championship game.

“We had the lead with 1:03 to go,’’ Starnes said. “Thinking we had the game, we felt all we had to do was take care of the ball. We got beat on a free throw with 34 seconds remaining.’’

As a senior, Starnes had 56 steals and 72 assists, hit 78 percent at the foul line and 42 percent from the floor, and ranked third on the team in rebounds.

The 3-point goal wasn’t instituted until her senior year, and Egan wasn’t sold on the new math. Starnes attempted only one and missed it.

Starnes was an All-Cumberland District selection three times and district player of the year, second-team all-state and Southwest Virginia co-player of the year with Love in 1987.

Her 98.5 classroom average and salutatorian honors opened academic doors as well.

Never having played volleyball, she gave it a try in her senior year. Starnes became a starter for coach Donnie Qualls and the Eagles lost only to Lurray, 15-12, 15-9, in the state finals. She also participated in track, doing the high jump, long jump and relays.

Starnes made up for lost time with the 3-pointer in college. At Virginia Intermont, she led the NAIA nationally in total field goals from behind the arc with 73 in the 1990-91 season. She had 148 attempts, placing seventh in the nation with a .493 percentage over 30 games. Starnes hit nine in one game.

In her four years at the Bristol college, the Lady Cobras won 90 games. The team’s best season was 23-5 when Starnes was a freshman.

Starnes got half of her team’s points, 36, in an 82-72 loss to Milligan and was chosen to two all-tournament teams.

She scored 1,138 points in high school and 1,049 in college.

Now: She is married to Craig Rhoton, an Eastman employee, and teaches special education at Rye Cove Intermediate.

The Rhotons have three children — Luke, 14, Lexie, 10, and Grace, 8. Luke is an eighth-grader on the Rye Cove jayvee basketball team. The two daughters are involved in rec league ball.

Bill Lane is a Times-News sports writer. E-mail him at [email protected]

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