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McBride has new home in Portal
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    When senior guard Cassandra McBride moved to Portal from Statesboro with her mother, she knew a change of scenery would be a difficult adjustment. The one thing that stayed the same? McBride — a junior for the Statesboro Lady Blue Devils in 2006 — wanted to keep playing basketball.
    Coming off of a three-win season and losing some experience to graduation, the Portal Lady Panthers were forced to rely on some new faces. Freshmen Nikki Sims and Jessica Brannen have had to get involved early, so the addition of McBride was a welcomed development for the squad.
    Lady Panther coach Earl Donaldson already knew how special McBride was when she arrived.
    “I had (McBride) in elementary school,” Donaldson said. “She decided to move to Portal her senior year, and she’s a spark to the team. She’s a good shooter, she’s a good dribbler and she’s an all-around team player. It’s really a plus to have her on the team.”
    With all of the young faces getting so much playing time, the Panthers needed leadership. With three years of prep basketball on her resume, McBride is a natural leader.
    “She kind of took charge,” said Donaldson. “She leads through example by doing what she is supposed to do. She is very disciplined, and she has the girls going.
    “We should do very good this year. She is a shooter and she is motivating the other girls to give their best. She is a plus to this school, and she is a motivator, a spark plug for this team.”
    A lot has changed for Portal since the 2006 campaign. Another new face on the Portal sidelines is first-year assistant coach Olivia Starcke. Starcke, along with Donaldson, has helped the girls stay disciplined and focused on their way to a 3-0 start.
    “(Starcke) is strict,” said McBride, “but I guess that’s what we need to win more games — more discipline. Since I am a senior, my coaches want me to step up. That’s what I have been trying to.”
    McBride’s impact was made clear right off the bat. After leading the team in scoring in the season-opener against Wayne County, she racked up 11 points against Southeast Bulloch before rolling her ankle. The injury forced her to the sidelines when the Panthers returned the trip to SEB the following week, and her absence on the court was noticeable.
    Under McBride’s leadership, the Panthers jumped out to an early 39-19 halftime lead in the home opener. Before the third-quarter injury, she had amassed 11 points, four steals and five assists while PHS held the 20-point lead over SEB into the fourth quarter.
    When the Panthers traveled to Brooklet to take on the Lady Yellow Jackets without McBride, the game was a close one the whole way, and Panthers squeaked away with a 31-29 win.
    The coaching staff at Portal has also taken into consideration the possibility that McBride can play on the next level. They want to ensure that the fact that she transferred to play out her senior year in Portal will not hinder the possibility of playing college ball.
    “Cassandra is one of the leaders on this team, she’s a good ball handler and she makes good decisions,” Starcke said. “I hope to be a helpful assistant this year and to get her there, to help her play on the college level. She’s a really good player, and I am looking forward to this year.”
    McBride has spent the last week or so recovering from the ankle sprain, and is looking forward to returning to the court and helping lead the young Panthers. She is expected to play Saturday when Portal hosts the Screven County Lady Gamecocks at 6 p.m. as the Panthers look to start the season at 4-0.

    Herald videographer Vince Johnson contributed to this story.