By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Pontotoc won 34 games and a state championship last season with Northeast Mississippi’s top player leading the way.
Quinn Ford has since graduated, but the Lady Warriors have returned to the MHSAA Class 4A state tournament championship game without her.
“We’re playing with a little different philosophy and style this season,” Pontotoc coach Bill Russell said. “It’s a credit to these players, the chemistry they’ve played with and the effort they’ve had.
“Eight of these players played every game on a 34-0 team. Had we not made it back to the state tournament, I would have been disappointed.”
This season’s quest for a gold ball may be more difficult. Pontotoc (31-3) must defeat the state’s top-ranked team, Bay High (35-0), at 7 p.m. Friday in the 4A title game at the Mississippi Coliseum.
Bay lost to Pontotoc in the state semifinals last season, so revenge will be a factor.
“It didn’t matter who we played,” Bay coach Debbie Triplett said after her team’s semifinal win. “They beat us last year, so we’re looking forward to playing and getting this thing done.”
Russell calls his players “competitors” and has no doubt they’ll be ready for the challenge.
“This is why you play the game, to play for a state championship,” he said. “Our kids expect to win.”
Take away Ford’s ability to drible-drive and you have a typical Bill Russell team – one that shoots the 3-pointer and plays tough man-to-man, pressure defense.
His inside game has improved this season with LaNikki McMillian in the paint. She led the team with 17 points in its semifinals win against Raymond.
Pontotoc’s guard/perimeter play is solid with Kayla Russell, Marlee Hatcher, Olivia Owen and Ann Rosenbaum in the lineup. The Lady Warriors hit eight 3-pointers against Raymond, four were from Russell’s daughter.
“We spend a lot of time shooting,” he said. “It’s a big part of what we do. Our perimeter game opens stretches the defense and opens up the inside (for McMillian). We’re able to score in the post because of it.”