Within the last four weeks, I have covered some of the teams that won or played for a state championship last season. And I was able to talk to the respective head coaches at length after each contest.
This particular effort is on the Pontotoc Lady Warriors, the defending Class 4A state champions.
That kind of rolls of the tongue nicely, but then several girls teams (H. W. Byers, New Site, Belmont, and Oxford) from Northeast Mississippi can claim that they are defending state champions.
It certainly was a banner season for area girls teams. But I dare think that last year’s success is a high bar to live up to this current season.
“I feel like some kids have been playing too satisfied,” Pontotoc head coach Bill Russell said. “But I feel like in division (1-4A) play, if our team leaves every game having played harder than the other team, we’ll be OK.”
An 18-3 mark thus far for the 2012-13 season would be fine with most, but the Lady Warriors are coming off a 34-0 effort from 2011-12. And they are generally getting every one’s best shot.
Last year is last year, and this year, it is tough to wear the shoes of the Lady Warriors.
Pontotoc lost three seniors, two of them starters, from last year’s squad.
Back is junior Kayla Russell, of that thrilling and still memorable last-second game-winning shot in the championship game. Fellow-junior Olivia Owen, seniors Lanikki McMillian and Anna Rsenbaum, and sophomore Marlee Hatcher combine to provide a formidable nucleus that will carry the Lady Warriors into the post-season.
“I’ve told the kids since this summer that everyone will get up for us,” Russell said. “We had some tough early games we were not getting up for.”
Pontotoc lost its opening game right out of the gate to Center Hill, then another November contest to Tupelo. Then over the holidays came a loss to 2A champ New Site.
The next day after that New Site lose, Pontotoc rebounded with a win over Olive Branch. And since, Pontotoc has handled 1-4A rivals Itawamba AHS and Shannon.
“We’ve battle all year not to be satisfied with last year,” Russell said. “We’ve still got things to do to win games, and we still have to work to get better.”
On the horizon, Pontotoc has a division game with Shannon Friday.
Then gets 3A finalist Belmont in North Pontotoc Saturday.
Itawamba AHS is another crucial 1-4A battle Tuesday.
Then perhaps the final test for Pontotoc before the post-season is against Choctaw Central in the Robertson’s Sportswear at North Pontotoc Feb. 2.
I have seen the Lady Warriors execute this season as efficiently as last season.
Forget last season, they are dangerous this season!
David Wheeler has been contributing to the high school sports coverage of the Daily Journal since 1985.