New Site’s girls basketball program sailed into uncharted waters last season – a trip south to the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson for the state tournament.
However, the Lady Royals were torpedoed on their initial voyage by Kemper County in the Class 2A semifinals.
This season’s team, which features seven returners, has set its sights on returning to Jackson and sailing back to Prentiss County with a gold ball.
“We hope to build off what we did last season,” coach Byron Sparks said.
The community, which followed the Lady Royals in legions last season, has high expectations for this team, too. Sparks knows that. His players know it.
“We’ve got a lot of expectations on us, but that means you’ve done something right in the past,” he said. “We expect a lot out of ourselves.
“All the talking is over; we’re ready to play.”
One of the team’s four returning starters, senior point guard Carleigh King, welcomes the challenge, as do her teammates. New Site finished 30-7 last season and won the North Mississippi tournament title, beating eventual state champion H.W. Byers.
“We’ve set our goals high,” said King, who averaged 9 points and 6 assists per game. “Hard work is going to get us there.”
The team, she adds, doesn’t feel any pressure to meet its lofty goals.
“We’ve been there, so we know what we need to do,” King said. “What we need to do now is just have fun and play ball.”
King is joined in the starting lineup by senior guards Bree Harris and Cara Clark, junior guard Krystal Jackson, and senior forward Darrah Pharr.
Harris battled nagging injuries last season, but still managed to average 14 points per game. She is considered the team’s top 3-point shooter.
“When she got hot late in the season is when we made our run,” Sparks said. “When she’s on the floor it makes us harder to defend. You have to respect her ability to shoot outside.”
Jackson, who stands 5-foot-9, took up the slack last season when Harris was sidelined. She averaged 15.7 points and 6 rebounds per game.
“She does a good job putting the ball on the floor, finishing and creating,” Sparks said. “She constantly works on her game. You have to run her out of the gym.”
Pharr, who stand 5-10, creates plenty of mis-matches for opponents because of her ability to go inside and outside. She averaged 11 points and 6 boards per game last season.
“She’s a good slasher and can finish,” Sparks said. “She’s quick for her position and is usually guarded by a post player.”
Clark, the daughter of New Site boys coach Ronald Clark, starts because of her defensive play.
“She’s a good defender; it’s what she does,” Sparks said. “She gives you hustle points and understands her role.”
The coach expects seniors Katie Christian and Ashley Cox, along with freshman Christy Clark, to see plenty of minutes.
“It’s always nice to have an experienced group back,” Sparks said. “They’ve seen everything there is to see, been in every situation. You hope they stay focused and execute.”
Gene Phelp/NEMS Daily Journal