Polk County sophomore Bailey Staton has helped lead Polk County to 15 wins and a state 1A playoff berth

A Polk County girls basketball practice comes to an end, but Bailey Staton’s work is just beginning.

An open court awaits somewhere. Most likely it’s the gym at Saluda Elementary. Could be the school playground. Only has to be a free court with an open rim.

Staton is there, shooting, dribbling, working. It’s how she fuels her drive to win, her college dreams, her passion to succeed.

“It’s like my dad always tells me, when you step on the court, just say in your head, you outwork every single one of these people,” Staton says. “I know I outwork all of these people.”

So she shoots. And shoots. And shoots. There’s always another basket to make, another step to take on a quest to be Polk County’s best ever and then go repeat that somewhere else.

“I’ve always loved basketball. When I step on the court, everything else goes away,” Staton said. “I love it.

“But this past year, it’s to a point where if I’m not in the gym every day, I’m like, what are you doing? You’re not going to make it, you’re not going to play college ball if you’re not out there right now. So I just keep doing what I’m doing and just keep working as hard as I possibly can.”

A lot.

Hang around Bailey Staton for any period of time, talk to coaches and friends about her, watch her play point guard for Polk County – that phrase often pops into conversations.

Staton talks a lot. She hugs a lot. She fist bumps a lot. She scores a lot.

The sophomore has certainly had a lot of influence on Polk’s 15-10 record this season, helping drive the Wolverines to their first home playoff game since 2009, that being Tuesday’s opening-round matchup with Swain.

Polk County’s point guard, Bailey Staton has increased her assist-to-turnover ratio this season while averaging 4.1 assists per game

Staton is averaging a team-leading 20.1 points per game, her field goal percentage having jumped more than 10 points this season compared to her freshman year. She’s actually taken fewer shots per game this season than last, when she averaged 16.6 points per game, but is making far more of them, including from the 3-point line, where she’s already hit a school-record 56 threes.

Staton is also averaging 4.1 assists per game and, perhaps most notably, has dropped her turnovers per game from 5.7 in her freshman year to fewer than two per game this season. That puts her assist-to-turnover ratio, often regarded as a key measure of success for a point guard, at 3.4 – anything 2.0 or better is often considered excellent for a high school player. With Kylie Lewis and Kiera Littlejohn’s offensive strength in the low post area and Mia Bradley and Charley Dusenbury able to score from the perimeter, it’s often just as important for Staton to get the ball into the frontcourt as it is for her to put it into the basket.

“She’s a scorer, but she also makes good passes,” said Polk head coach Brandy Alm. “She sees the floor so much better than she did last year. Her energy is huge for us. It really fires everyone up.

“Controlling the tempo of the game is something that we are working on, when to pull it back, when to go, things like that. But she loves the game, she works on it and she plays hard.”

Indeed, the gregarious, fun-loving Staton that exists outside the lines largely disappears once on the court. Save perhaps for the pink sneakers she is wearing this season, Staton between the lines is quieter, determined and singularly focused on victory.

“Oh my goodness, it’s everything,” she says of winning. “I lose sleep if we don’t win a game. It’s everything. It’s my whole life, basically.”

The drive to succeed isn’t limited to team success; Staton sets high individual goals. She targeted scoring 1,000 points by the end of her sophomore season and, at 934 points, could possibly get there if Polk County can make an extended postseason run. She had the first 30-point game of her career in the Wolverines’ late-season 67-22 win over Patton, scoring 32 points, just six short of Hayley Kropp’s single-game record. Staton struggled at the foul line in the win, and among her first postgame words? “I should have gotten the individual (game record) tonight.”

Staton is already more than halfway to Kropp’s career scoring record of 1,637 points. And while both players could score while playing the point, Alm said the similarities largely end there.

“They’re completely different players,” she said. “I put Hayley into the point guard position and, while she got comfortable there, she was a pure scorer. She and Bailey are definitely different in that sense.

“Bailey seems to embrace being in the center of everything where Hayley was the opposite. . . But as far as their love for the game, it’s a lot alike. I was telling a parent today that their work ethic is very similar. They’re hungry. They just want to get better.”

The records are nice to have. The wins mean much more. But the long hours and extra workouts all come with another target in mind.

“I want to play college ball,” Staton said. “That’s my number one goal. I’m in the gym three or four hours a day, and it’s like, if I don’t accomplish my goal. . . it’s everything to me.

“I go off that Kobe (Bryant) mentality, always in the gym every single day, no days off, just trying to get to where I want to be.”

So Staton shoots. And dribbles. And works.

And does it again the next day.

A lot.

“I’m going to keep watching ball, going to keep studying the game. I’ve got to put film out there, got to just watch other great players around the country and see how I can feed off their game.

“And just keep working how I am.”