By Brandon Speck/NEMS Daily Journal
Pontotoc did this to themselves. The Lady Warriors went 34-0 last season en route to the Class 4A state championship.
That set the bar pretty high, even though leading scorer Quinn Ford graduated. Coach Bill Russell has been happy with how this year’s team has adapted.
“You’re not going to overcome a loss like Quinn. She of course gave us a tremendous boost offensively and gave us really an unstoppable dribble-drive threat,” he said. “We’ve had kids step up, playing a completely different style. I think we’re a little bit better defensively, but you don’t replace a player like Quinn.”
Pontotoc (18-3) has won all seven of its Division 1-4A games and has another against Shannon tonight.
On Saturday, the Lady Warriors close the By His Grace Classic at North Pontotoc against another state champion, Class 3A Belmont, at 7:30 p.m.
Marlee Hatcher, Kayla Russell and Nikki McMillian lead the Lady Warriors, all averaging double figures.
Russell wouldn’t look past his team’s division game with Shannon, but doesn’t have to, to know it will be a challenge.
“I think this year is kind of feeding off of last year. Our kids developed a winning mentality, not that we didn’t already have it,” he said, “but the expectations at Pontotoc are high after last year. We get our opponent’s best shot. It seems like we get everybody’s best game. I’ve been pleased with how the kids have responded.
“There’s a lot of pressure on them.”
Belmont beat Ripley in the state finals in March. Ripley is off to a 17-4 start and has a win over the state’s top-ranked team, Southaven.
The Lady Tigers play at 6 p.m. Saturday against Itawamba AHS at North Pontotoc. Ripley will be without its coach. Katie Bates and husband Jonathan are expecting a baby boy, Bo, today. Assistant coach Regina Chills will coach the team.