By Kedrick Storey
PINE GROVE – This year’s Pine Grove Lady Panthers have stirred up memories of the school’s past state tournament teams, but first-year head coach Katie Bates said getting to Jackson is not about her or her squad.
They’re just adding to an already established Pine Grove tradition.
“This team realizes that even though they are reaping the success, they aren’t the only ones who have sowed it,” said Bates, a former Lady Panther.
Pine Grove won the 1960 Grand Slam and state titles in 1981, ‘82 and ‘86. They made the state tournament in 2008 and fell two wins shy last year. Bates noted previous coaches Roman Doty, Cliff Ormon and Chris Parman, and players like Bryana Davis, now a freshman at Blue Mountain College, helped lay the groundwork for this season.
“They all contributed brick by brick to a foundation that was laid long before us,” Bates said. “We just hope to add another layer.”
The first step to adding a layer of gold comes today when they face Hinds AHS at 6:30 in a Class 1A state semifinal at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
Bates, who landed Ripley in Jackson the four previous years, said she didn’t give the Lady Panthers a “magical potion” when she arrived last June. She said they bought into her philosophy of hard work, defense and rebounding, things that helped them to win No. 28, an overtime victory against Ashland last week to qualify for a game in the Big House.
“They were like sponges, absorbing everything I’ve said,” Bates said.
Senior point guard Leslie Hopkins runs the show, while guard Katelin Miller and forward Anna Fryar, both seniors, and 6-foot junior post Aliyah Akins average 10 points each. Another senior guard, Anna Dixon, whose mother (‘86) and sister (‘08) were on Pine Grove state tournament teams, works the perimeter and draws tough defensive assignments along with Fryar. Underclassmen Lexie Elliott and Meagan Hill and senior Brittany Gates provide minutes off the bench.
Bates said all are vital to finishing this run.
“We just have to keep pushing,” she said. “They wanted to get here and now they are here. Now we have to rise to the occasion like we have all season.”