New Albany's eight seniors make final quest for gold

By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The Big House has not been a fun house for New Albany’s Lady Bulldogs.
The last two seasons, this team – led now by eight seniors – has come up short of its quest for a gold ball at the Mississippi Coliseum. Last year, the Lady Bulldogs lost in the finals. The year before they were eliminated in the semifinals.
At 1 p.m. today, New Albany (27-4) will play South Jones (28-3) in the MHSAA Class 4A State Tournament semifinals. The winner will play Pontotoc or Lawrence County on Friday for the state championship.
“This is a good group of girls,” New Albany coach John Stroud said. “They’ve had a good run. They’ve won everything there is to win but a state tournament.”
Win is right.
New Albany has posted an impressive 86-10 record – 86-6 against Mississippi teams – in three seasons with Jasmine Knox, Kebrina Lucas, Nyambi Penson, Paris Sanders, Caroline Stroud, Micha Washington, Porche White and Marquita Young in the lineup.
The Lady Bulldogs have won county, division and north state titles.
“They want to win state really bad,” Stroud said. “It would be a shame, because they’ve had such a great career, if they didn’t win a gold ball.
“It’s hard to win one. It takes a little luck, so any team can win it.”
Stroud knew he would have a special group when he saw these girls play as freshmen.
“They all had a lot of special talents,” he said. “At the time, I had no idea about Jazmine Spears (who was a seventh grader). That sealed the deal.
“Throw Jazmine in the mix and we took it to another level.”
Spears, a 6-foot sophomore guard/forward and three-year starter, leads the Lady Bulldogs this season averaging 17.5 points and 11.7 rebounds per game.
Washington, the team’s 6-2 center, averages 13.1 points and 7.9 rebounds while Lucas, a bruising guard, averaged 10.8 points and 4.4 rebounds.
Stroud said expectations for his team have been at an all-time high since they lost to Raymond in the finals last year. That Lady Bulldogs team won 32 straight games before losing in the championship.
“It’s been a difficult year because so much is expected of this team,” he said. “A lot of times they’ve played just good enough to win. It’s hard to explain why it’s been that way. It’s more mental than physical.
“They know they can do it when they make their minds up to play.”
Stroud was pleased with his team’s effort in winning the North Mississippi title. He hopes he gets that type of effort here this week.
“We need to be able to put four quarters together and play two good games,” he said. “If we can, I like our chances.”

Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593 or gene.phelps@journalinc.com.

Today’s big games
Girls

- South Jones vs. New Albany, 1 p.m.

- Pontotoc vs. Lawrence County, 6:30 p.m.

Boys
- New Albany vs. St. Stanislaus, 8 p.m.