BY BRAD LOCKE
JACKSON – The vision was formed in 2004, when Simone Ryan began her freshman season at H.W. Byers. A year behind her was Rachel Jones, who would later that season become the Lady Lions’ starting point guard.
It was Jason Thompson’s fourth year as head coach of his alma mater, but what he foresaw then is what can come to full fruition at 7 p.m. today in the MHSAA Class 2A state championship game at Mississippi Coliseum. Byers will battle Philadelphia for the gold ball and a berth in next week’s Grand Slam.
Thompson knew how much potential was coiled within his two young stars, and how far they could take a struggling program.
“I told them, We have to start with a vision and a dream,’ and that’s what we started with when (Ryan) first arrived and when (Jones) was in eighth grade,” said Thompson. “If we visualize ourselves doing what we’re capable of doing, we’ll finally get to that, because the material is there.”
Jones and Ryan, a senior forward, took Byers to its first-ever state tournament last season, where the Lady Lions beat Philadelphia 52-36 in the quarterfinals before bowing out against Coahoma County in the semis.
Philadelphia (26-5, South No. 1 seed) rides a 13-game winning streak into this game. It lost to Kemper County, which Byers beat in the semifinals, on Jan. 15 but has gained revenge three times over, including in the South final.
Now it wants payback on Byers (34-4, North No. 1). The Lady Tornadoes were the defending state champs when they lost to the Lady Lions last year.
But Thompson’s team has a sharp eye on that gold ball.
“This year, we’re not complete unless we get what we came to get,” Thompson said, “and that’s the gold ball and being 2A champions.”