After 200 wins, Missy Gators still one of state’s elite

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 18, 2004

Led by Jennifer Johnston (16), Kim Griffin (20) and Courtney Chapman (11), the Vicksburg Missy Gators captured the 2001 state championship, the fourth of five for the school. Vicksburg won its 200th girls soccer game on Tuesday night and continues to be the most successful Class 5A girls soccer team in the state. (FileThe Vicksburg Post)

[11/18/04] The green notebook on Kevin Manton’s desk in the Vicksburg High fieldhouse was new more than a decade ago. The pages, all amazingly intact, have yellowed with age and the edges have long since begun to tatter.

Inside it, though, are myriad numbers, slashes and lines, all chronicling the history of the most successful girls soccer program in Mississippi history.

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Stretching back to its inception in 1989, the notebook is a living history of five state championships, six state title appearances, a pair of state players of the year and one All-American.

On Tuesday night, Manton added another notation 200. With Tuesday’s 3-0 win over West Monroe, La., the Missy Gators notched their 200th victory since the program started.

“In the beginning, I had no clue it would come this far,” Manton said. “It started growing from the start. We only played seven games the first year, then nine and 10. It’s come a long way.”

In that first season, the Missy Gators went 4-3 four of those games were played at Hattiesburg over a two-weekend stretch. The Mississippi High School Activities Association did not start sanctioning a playoff in its current form until 1995-96.

By then, the groundwork had been laid for the start of a dynasty that is present for everyone who walks inside Memorial Stadium.

Pictures of each state championship team and their accomplishments take up almost half the wall space on the outside of the main stands. Many of the last names are the same Chapman, Baylot, Johnston, Flanagan and Head although the faces are different, creating a true family atmosphere.

The pictures are a sense of pride players from the past hold, and those of the present and future strive for.

“We knew when we won that first state championship we set the standard and knew we couldn’t get below that,” said Kori Crutchfield, Vicksburg’s current softball coach and a member of two state championship teams.

Vicksburg’s first title was a win over Bay High. Then, the playoffs lasted eight days. The first round was played on Saturday, followed by Tuesday’s second round, Friday’s semifinal and Saturday’s championship.

“It went so fast we really didn’t know what was happening,” Manton said.

Over the next three seasons, the Missy Gators won two more state titles, and lost a third in a disputed ending against Clinton that still sticks in the craw of many of the players.

The team notched a 77-11 record from the first title in 1995-96 to the 1998-99 championship.

“We knew we had good chemistry because we were familiar with each other,” said the former Erin Loper, a member of two title teams. “We knew we were good, but we never realized we were that good. We didn’t realize the magnitude of it.”

In 1999-2000, Vicksburg missed the playoffs for the only time in the school’s history, but bounced back to win back-to-back championships in 2000-01, and 2001-02. In those two years, the Missy Gators went an astounding 38-6.

“I’ve been a part of this for five years now and I really feel like I was part of the 200,” said Miranda Hunt, a senior on this year’s team that is 4-0-1 going into Friday’s home game with Florence. “It’s nice to know that I am part of this.”

Hunt has two state championship rings, but says she rarely flaunts them.

Manton agreed saying they try not to harp on the past too much, but every once in a while he does send reminders.

“Before the playoffs last year, I had them all go out and look at the pictures,” Manton said. “I had them see what can be accomplished.”

Although undefeated this season, the Missy Gators are playing without a superstar. The state’s leading career goal scorer, Brandi Parker, graduated last season, the first time the Missy Gators reached the playoffs without making the championship game.

Parker won two Gatorade State Player of the Year Awards and is now at Mississippi State. Kristin Chapman, who has three state title rings, is now coaching at Warren Central.

Chapman won two state player of the year awards and is still the only Missy Gator ever to be named Parade All-American.

“We were young and I think a little naive,” said Chapman, now known as Kristin Gough. “The more we won, the more confident we got as a team. We kept working harder and harder and building and building.”

Still Manton hates to live in the past, and knows that many schools are gaining ground. Tupelo has won three Class 5A state titles and the race for the championship gets rougher each year.

Madison Central and Brandon have yet to win a state title, and Clinton is sitting on its one championship. As the competition grows stronger, the chance of having a run like the Missy Gators did throughout the mid-90s and early 2000s is not likely.

“I think our group was special because so many of us played ball together outside of high school,” Crutchfield said. “We knew what each other was going to do whereas these girls are split up between teams.

“It’s possible it could happen again because of the fact that we started the select program.”

In a division that includes WC and Natchez, the Missy Gators are almost assured of another playoff run. In the past when Vicksburg began playoff time, it seemed to kick the level of play into another gear, fearing no one and usually backing it up with victories.

The last time Vicksburg did not reach the state championship game, it backed it up with two straight. VHS did not make it last season as well, meaning …

Manton doesn’t like to harp on the past, but it is almost impossible not to. The 200 wins, 52 losses and 7 ties tell the story so well. The five rings Manton occassionally wears is a testament to a program built on hard work and a committment to excellence.

“It’s what these girls have brought to us over the years,” Manton said. “I believe success breeds success. Every year, the players know that is what’s expected and they go out and do it.

“We’re not the best practiced team, or the best conditioned team, but you can never take away their heart, fight and desire to win.”