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Vicksburg upends Meridian for fourth title in six years

Neely Nasif of Vicksburg is tripped up by Meridian’s Kortney Harris (18) while battling for the ball during the state championship game on Saturday. Below, Courtney and Tom Chapman share a hug after the Missy Gators’ win. The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN

[02/12/01]CLINTON You just can’t keep the Missy Gators down for long.

One year removed from not even making the state playoffs, Vicksburg High (19-4) assumed its natural position on top of the state championship mountain with a dominating 3-1 win over Meridian (18-4).

The victory was the fourth state title and second over the Wildcats in the six year history of the tournament.

Neely Nasif, Courtney Chapman and Kim Griffin each scored a goal Chapman’s the game-winner as Vicksburg held its fourth straight playoff opponent to just one goal. VHS outscored its opponents 16-4 over the span.

“It was difficult, and nerve-wracking,” said Vicksburg goalie Viola Howard, who made eight saves and allowed Meridian’s lone goal on a beautiful arcing shot by Erin Brown late in the first half. “The defense helped me out a lot. And if it wasn’t for Courtney (Chapman) there in the first half, they would have had two scores.”

Nasif’s goal five minutes into the match, on an assist from Laura Johnston, put Vicksburg in a familiar place during these playoffs: the lead. The Missy Gators did not trail at one time during the playoffs. Chapman’s kickout of a ball that trickled past Howard with 10 minutes left in the first half kept VHS up 1-0.

Brown’s goal five minutes later knotted the game at one as the two teams went into halftime.

“I thought if we did some things right this game, we had a good shot to win and we did up until the second half,” said Meridian coach Pat Ross, who played several sports in high school at Warren Central. “We started to get a little tired in the second half and (Vicksburg) took advantage of that. They played really well.”

Vicksburg didn’t take long to reclaim the lead for good when Chapman took a beautiful crossfield pass and blasted a shot past Lady Wildcats’ goalie Sarah Denham for a 2-1 lead just five minutes into the second half.

“After the second and third goal, we knew we had won it. It was over,” said a smiling senior Kim Griffin, who was on the 1998-99 state championship team. “We weren’t going to give up a goal. We worked so hard for this.”

As was the case in the semifinal win over Clinton, the Missy Gators scored their final goal off a Cassie Griffing corner kick, which was handled by Griffin in front of the net and quickly planted in the goal with 7:41 left in the game.

“I was trying to work hard for that one,” Griffin said with a chuckle.

Meridian had several quality chances in the closing minutes, but the dominating Missy Gators’ defense only allowed one shot on goal in the final minutes. The Lady Wildcats took just 10 shots.

“We played our hearts out in the second half and we weren’t going to let them score any goals,” sweeper Brandi Head said. “This was a great win.”

In the past six years, when Vicksburg has made it to the state semifinals and finals, it is almost unbeatable. The Missy Gators are 9-1 when playing in the Final Four, with the lone loss coming to Clinton in the 1997 state championship game.

They have never won their own tournament during the regular season and for the second year in a row did not win the division.

They did travel and beat Tupelo in the tournament opener, then routed Southaven. In the semifinals, Vicksburg upended division champ Clinton to set up Saturday’s title winner.

“I’m the captain of this ship, but it’s the people doing the paddling that make us go,” Vicksburg coach Kevin Manton said. “… This was an enjoyable bunch to be around and I think that meant a lot.

“It never matters who gets the credit on this team, its always the bottom line: we won.”