Since Christmas, I have covered some of the teams that won or played for a state championships last season. And I was able to talk to the respective head coaches at length after each contest.
This particular effort is on the Belmont Lady Cardinals.
Of course the Lady Cardinals are the defending Class 3A State Champions. And this season, after glimpsing them their very first game of the season against Nettleton in Tupelo in November, I labored under the impression they were under the radar for several months. To me, that would kind of unusual for a defending champ.
But then I caught their Division 1-3A regular season match up with Booneville. And after talking to head coach Chris Higginbottom after the contest, I found out that while the Lady Cardinals had one (just one) returning starter in Alisha Jones, just one mind you, Jones was hurt, and Belmont basically had a completely new team on the floor from last season.
Hard to be under the radar when you are so inexperienced.
“This is not the same team as last year,” Higginbottom said. “To win big games with inexperience is very tough, and inexperience leads to inconsistency.”
Higginbottom has like the play of freshman point guard Chloe Watson, and also the play of sophomore Katelyn Nunley and Natasha Jones.
“We’ve been getting everybody’s best game because of the state championship,” Higginbottom said. “On my players side, I’ve been pleased with the way they’ve handled it.
But we’ve got to get better if we want to compete in the playoffs. I told them a while ago (after losing to Booneville, eventually knocking the Lady Cardinals down to a No. 3 seed in the 1-3A tournament) that you can go as far as you decide to go.
“And I told them that consistency and performance leads to success.”
That loss to Booneville was part of a five-game losing streak for the Lady Cardinals, which included setbacks to Pontotoc, Ripley, and North Pontotoc, all teams with aspirations to go deep in the playoffs. That list is certainly nothing to turn your nose up at.
To Belmont’s credit, they responded after the Booneville game with a 10-point win over Alcorn Central to keep from falling to the No. 4 seed in 1-3A.
Belmont’s tradition should be good enough for a run in this year’s playoffs. And at the very least, a great learning experience for the underclassmen on the squad.
Pay attention in the classroom of basketball, Lady Cardinals, it can get you a long way on the court.
David Wheeler has been contributing to the high school sports coverage of the Daily Journal since 1985.