By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
PONTOTOC – Three Northeast Mississippi high school girls basketball teams won state championships last year. This season, the area boasts serious contenders in five of the six classes.
“I think Northeast Mississippi has some of the best teams in the state,” said Itawamba Community College coach Nanci Gray. “I think you’ll see a lot of them in the state tournament.
“I think we’ll have some championship teams up here.”
The defending state champions are H.W. Byers (1A), Ripley (3A) and New Albany (4A). Byers (17-4) and Ripley (21-2) are in the mix again this season. In New Albany’s case, the Lady Bulldogs (9-10) entered this season with one returning starter, Daily Journal All-Area Player of the Year, Jazmine Spears.
Pontotoc (22-0), a state tournament entry last season, has replaced New Albany as a 4A contender. The unbeaten Lady Warriors are led by Ole Miss signee Quinndella Ford.
In Class 2A, New Site (19-4), a state finalist last year, has its sights set on bringing a gold ball home to Prentiss County.
In Class 5A, Oxford (22-0) is expected to challenge Jackson Lanier, the state’s top-ranked team.
In Class 1A, Myrtle (22-2) has only lost to division rivals Byers and Coldwater, a team that features one of the state’s top players in Southern Miss signee Jerontay Clemons.
In Class 3A, 2010 state champion Belmont (21-3) is on track to be a contender.
ROBERTSON’S CENTER STAGE
Three of those contenders – Myrtle, Belmont and Pontotoc – are scheduled to play Saturday in the 15th annual Robertson’s Sportswear Lady Challenge at Pontotoc High School.
The nine-game lineup tips off at 10 a.m. and concludes with an 8:30 p.m. marquee matchup between Pontotoc’s Ford and Coldwater’s Clemons.
The 7:15 game pits Belmont against the 2010 6A state champion Horn Lake. Myrtle is scheduled to play Memphis Home School at 12:30.
Two teams loaded with Division 1 prospects – Hoover, Ala., and Memphis Central – play at 6. Former Tupelo coach Stephanie Murphy’s Brandon team plays Southaven at 4:30.
“There are a lot of good girls basketball teams in North Mississippi,” said tournament director Darrell Robertson. “There are a lot of good teams with a chance to make it to Jackson.”
Robertson says the improved brand of girls basketball has attracted quite a following in recent years.
“At some schools there’s more interest in the girls than the boys,” he said.
Admission to the Robertson’s Challenge is $5. All the proceeds go to breast cancer research.