COACHES OF THE YEAR
By Parrish Alford
The secret of Jeff Nelson’s success this season was focus. Not his own but that of his team.
“This group was focused on what it had to do,” says the Oxford girls basketball coach of his Class 4A champion Lady Chargers. “They allowed me to coach more than motivate.”
The secret of Jacky Rowsey’s success was resilience. He and the Biggersville Lions showed it when they survived a rugged regular season schedule, much of it after 6-foot-7 Daun Barnett went down with a knee injury. They got to Jackson and won the Class 1A championship anyway.
With the secrets out, the Daily Journal recognizes Nelson as the All-Area Girls Coach of the Year and Rowsey as All-Area Boys Coach of the Year.
Nelson’s Lady Chargers finished 32-2 with an uncommon chemistry highlighted by four seniors Nicki Johnson, Lynndy Fitts, Leijuana Banks and Telitha Ball who Nelson has coached since the ninth grade.
“I never had to worry about motivation with this bunch,” Nelson said. “Once we got in the playoffs I probably didn’t mention the state championship at all.
“We weren’t overconfident, but I never had to work for their attention. I never had to kick a garbage can or anything.”
It was the first championship game appearance for Nelson in his sixth trip to the state tournament. Oxford lost four starters from its 1995 team and will lose four from this one.
Focus may have been a concern for the Oxford girls in the state championship game against Division 1-4A rival Tishomingo County, which they had beaten three times during the season. Oxford broke open a semi-close game in the second half and won 65-36. Of the three previous meetings, one had been decided by a single point and one in overtime.
Nelson says one reason for his team’s success on the court is the way his players conduct themselves off the court.
“We’ve had good teams like that in the past, but this one was excellent,” Nelson said.
Rowsey’s Lions didn’t make a lot of noise in the regular season, instead saving their roaring for the playoffs. The Lions defeated Mount Olive 67-65 for the championship, ending the season with a 26-9 record. Rowsey’s teams had been to the semifinals three times, but this was his first championship game.
Daun Barnett combined with 6-4 Jon Barnett for an impressive inside tandem in the first half of the season. When Daun went down, Jon picked up the slack in the paint and earned a spot on the All-Area team.
Rowsey said the loss of Daun changed Biggersville’s style of play, something that worked for and against the Lions as the season progressed.
“It made us put our quicker team on the floor,” he said. “It took away from rebounds and intimidation, but we were able to press more.”
The effectiveness of Biggersville’s press, however, depended on the style of officiating.
“If we got officials that let us play, then the press was very effective,” Rowsey said. “Sometimes we didn’t press much just trying to stay out of foul trouble.”
Rowsey never let his team stay down because of narrow losses to larger schools and some of the top teams in the area.
Like many small schools, the Lions didn’t hit the basketball floor running. They hit it at a slow trot, taking time to get their legs back from football season. It was not until late January that Rowsey knew where his team might fit in the postseason picture.
“When New Albany beat Durant (three-time defending 1A champ) in the Hotbed Classic we knew where we stood on the state level,” he said. “That let us know we could compete, and we felt like we had a legitimate shot.”