High School Girls Basketball Preview: Pontotoc begins life after Ford

By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal

Pontotoc’s gold ball is in the school’s trophy case and will remain there when the Lady Warriors open their season Saturday against Center Hill.
“This is a new year,” Pontotoc coach Bill Russell said. “The gold ball has dust on it. You can’t live in the past. This is a new team.”
Well, sort of. Russell has eight players returning from his 34-0 Class 4A state championship team, including Daily Journal All-Area guard Kayla Russell. They will miss Journal Player of the Year Quinn Ford, however.
This season, Russell will have to use his numbers and depth even more in a quest to return to the Big House.
“My concern is size and athleticism,” he said. “We’ll be defending bigger, faster, stronger players. We plan to use our numbers and create some mismatches.”
Pontotoc does have state tournament standout, 5-foot-11 forward Nikki McMillen, back to defend in the post. She’ll be joined by Russell and guards Marlee Hatcher and Anna Rosenbaum.
One team looking to end Pontotoc’s run this season will be Division 1-4A foe Itawamba AHS.
Quay Dunn and Kim Mallory, who both averaged 11 points per game last season, are back, along with a third returning starter, Laura Coker.
“We’re not one person,” Indians coach Amanda Morrow said. “We hope to spread things around. We have so many role players who do their jobs well. It’s a total team.”
Class 4A is also the home of New Albany standout forward-guard Jazmine Spears, who enters her final high school season. She was the Journal’s Player of the Year in 2011.
FLIP-FLOP IN 3A
Ripley, which lost to Belmont in the state title game, returns a solid lineup that includes guard Jayla Chills, who averaged 17.6 points last season.
However, the Lady Tigers will miss post player Becca Ruckes.
“We will look a lot different without Becca,” coach Katie Bates said. “We depended on her size so long. We will have a quicker lineup.”
Belmont, which features sophomore point guard Elisiah Jones, has four new starters.
“I think we’ll be better as the year goes on,” coach Chris Higgingbottom said.
ROYAL REPEAT?
New Site, the defending 2A state champion, has a solid lineup returning with All-Area pick Christy Clark, a 5-9 senior guard, and 5-10 junior forward Shelby Stricklen.
The Lady Royals will also welcome back injured 6-foot post player Grace Elliot in December.
“We’ve got a lot of experience back,” coach Byron Sparks said. “We’ll be disappointed if we don’t go back to Jackson.”
GOLD DEFENDERS
H.W. Byers in 1A, led by Richendia Crutcher and Abria Gulledge, and Oxford in 5A, powered by 5-11 Alexus Malone, have the lineups back to win another gold ball.
gene.phelps@journalinc.com

GIRLS PRESEASON TOP 5
1. Oxford

2. Pontotoc

3. IAHS

4. New Site

5. Ripley