Going for the gold: Lady Jackets play for state title
One year working back to the state tournament has been long enough for Starkville High School girls basketball coach Kristie Williams, but she’s been waiting to win it all much longer than that.
Williams and assistant coach Anita Johnson were a part of the 1992 state championship team for the Lady Yellowjackets as players under coach Glenn Schmidt. Fast forward 25 years later, they have a chance to bring the trophy back to SHS for the first time since that season.
After Williams finally saw her team get over the hump of the semifinal round on Wednesday against Biloxi, relief was evident across her face.
Now, she’s hoping for one more win this season.
“It goes back to June of 2016 and (the players) came back and told me that we’re getting over that hump and we’re going all the way,” Williams said. “It takes a lot to actually put it into action. Now we’re 31-0 and playing for an opportunity to get a gold ball.”
It’s been a mental grind for the Lady Jackets to play 31 games and not slip up with a loss yet. They’ve been determined since their loss to Murrah in the semifinals last March to get a championship ring on their finger and, so far, that plan is still in sight.
Another team in the state has had retribution on their minds as well and today’s championship matchup has Starkville pitted against them.
Olive Branch (32-1) last lost to a Mississippi team on February 26 of last season when they came to Starkville and the Lady Jackets ended its season 76-54 in the second round of the playoffs. Since that time, the Lady Conquistadors have been waiting for this heavyweight fight and now they get it.
“You talk about a battle," Williams said. "It’s coming down to one versus two. At this stage, it’s for the ultimate prize. Hopefully, we’ll come out on top, but we know it’s going to be a battle. Coach (Jason) Thompson is one of my close friends and we know he’s going to have his game plan together.”
Olive Branch has steadily been the top team in the state of Mississippi despite Starkville's undefeated record. The Lady Conquistadors boast Mississippi’s top player in point guard Myah Taylor, who is a Mississippi State signee.
Taylor averages over 20 points per game with eight assists, six steals and six rebounds per game. She has plenty of help around her with a walking double-double in Katie Blackmon and fellow guard Mahogany Vaught. The heart of the team lies with Taylor, however.
“Myah Taylor is a tremendous athlete and we know she’s capable of doing big things with the ball in her hands,” Williams said. “Maybe if we can minimize her touches and force the other players to step up, we’ll see what happens down the stretch.”
Williams herself has plenty experience of her star player being game planned for. Kelsey Jones has fought through constant double teams and triple teams the last two seasons to open up more for her teammates.
That’s created opportunities for players like Jariyah Covington, Jalisa Outlaw, Tabreea Gandy and Amaria Strong. Through all of that, Jones has no complaints. All she wants is a trophy later Saturday after the 6 p.m. game goes final at the Mississippi Coliseum.
“This is my last year," Jones said. "We’ve been practicing and practicing and we told ourselves that we won’t stop here. We’re going to the championship and we’re going to win it all. I’m very excited.”