Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 9, 2005

have storied Big House past|[3/9/05]

Talk about history.

No two programs have enjoyed a more storied rivalry in the Mississippi State High School basketball tournament than Warren Central and Harrison Central.

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Five times the two schools have met in the 5A finals. Harrison Central, a 12-time state champion, has enjoyed the better of the title meetings, winning four.

The Lady Vikes, however, did have a run of success over their tournament nemesis in the late 1980s when the Jerry Henderson-coached clubs won three titles, beating the Red Rebelettes either in the semifinal or, the one time in a final, in 1987.

One reason why this rivalry developed as it did can be traced to the coaches. One would be hard pressed to find anywhere in America where three coaches – Van Chancellor, Lloyd Clark and Jerry Henderson – jumped straight from these two high schools into prominence at the NCAA Division I level.

The rivalry began in 1978 when Chancellor was in the middle of his run of three straight titles at Harrison Central. After playing one of Clark’s teams in 1979, Chancellor told the Vicksburg Evening Post, “They were the one team I dreaded playing.”

After a successful career at Ole Miss, Chancellor won four WNBA titles with the Houston Comets and was the head coach of the 2004, gold medal-winning, United States Olympic basketball team.

Tonight, at the Mississippi Coliseum, the two teams who have combined for 38 state tournament appearances will take the floor in the state semifinals. The winner advances to Saturday’s championship game, 23 years after the state title game that still haunts Warren Central.

39-1 WC team the best the school has produced

Warren Central entered the 1982 Class AA final 39-0 under Clark. The Lady Vikes were considered a machine, destroying the opposition by lopsided margins.

WC seemed a lock to end the six-year strangle-hold Harrison Central held on the AA title.

The two teams met in the South State finals and WC won handily. The rematch came in the state finals and the Lady Vikes were a mere 28 minutes away from claiming an incredible 40-0 season.

Only it was not to be. Greg Holmes, Harrison Central’s new coach, had used a four-corner spread offense to much success in winning two titles at Utica High.

“What I remember most about Warren Central that year is that they were the best defensive team I had ever seen, before or since,” said Holmes, now the women’s coach at Gulf Coast Community College. “At South State, I wanted to play them straight up. If you couldn’t beat them straight up, then try something else.

“I still get accused of having thrown that South State game. But that wasn’t the case. It had more to do with how the state tournament is set up and it’s still that way to this day.”

Harrison Central forced WC’s defense to widen out, opening up lanes for the Red Rebelettes’ quick guards.

“We wanted them to guard us over a bigger area and it was too much ground for them to cover. We got up 13-2. I don’t think they had ever been behind at all, that whole year,” Holmes said.

Despite a gallant, 27-point effort from WC star Alisa Scott, the Lady Vikes fell 56-50.

Clark, who became one of the nation’s winningest coaches in womens’ basketball at Delta State University, said the loss was hard to forget.

“I guarantee it was my toughest loss,” Clark said. “The only comparable loss that I had at Delta State was the 1993 national championship game against North Dakota State.”

“You know, I was just discussing that game with Donny (Fuller) the other day,” added Clark who just moved back to the Vicksburg area after retiring from DSU in 2003. “I still feel like we were the better team. We had just beaten them 10 the week before. But for some reason, we were just real uptight for that game. I had one girl touch the ball eight times – and she made eight turnovers.”

Besides Scott, the WC starting lineup had Sharon Duclos at center, Laura Carson at forward and in the backcourt at guard were Jewel Truly and Louellen Lewis.

“I remember they held the ball on us,” Lewis said. “I mean, that was 23 years ago. It’s gotten a little fuzzy. But it was our only defeat after 39 wins.”

Clark went on to win three national championships at Delta State in 1989, 1990 and 1992.

Lady Vikes got revenge in ’86 semis

Warren Central finally got a measure of revenge by beating Harrison Central in the semifinals of the 1986 State Tournament, ending a run of eight titles in nine years for the Red Rebelettes. The Lady Vikes then beat Brookhaven 54-53 in the 5A final.

“The first time one of my teams faced Harrison Central, we beat them at South State,” Henderson said.

“During a four-year period, the three teams from the South, us, Warren Central and Brookhaven were maybe, separated by three points,” Holmes said.

In 1987, Holmes again went to the four-corners offfense against WC in South State.

“They beat us three at South State,” said WC star Jackie Martin Glass. “But when we played them in the finals, we were ready. When we went ahead of them, they had to come out and play ball. This time, we won the game.”

Henderson remembers a conversation he had with Holmes right after the South State title game that proved prophetic.

“At South State, they got up one and held the ball. We had to foul and got beat. Afterward Greg comes up to me and says, ‘That might have been the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. Now, you’re going to know what do when we go to our spread.'” Henderson recalls Holmes saying.

Sure enough, the Lady Vikes were ready the next week.

“We put in a halfcourt trap, a couple of days before, just for that situation,” Henderson said. “We were able to cut them off from the ball. We wound up beating them (48-41) in the championship game.”

Martin-Glass scored 23 points to lead WC. She also helped hold Charlotte Banks, who later became her teammate at Ole Miss under Van Chancellor, to 16 points below her average.

“We didn’t discuss those games much at Ole Miss, but Charlotte did tell me that prior to the ’87 game, she said Coach Holmes had been comparing me to Chris Jackson,” Glass said. “She then said, ‘Jackie, I was just so scared of you.'”

HC entered 1988 title game unbeaten

Martin-Glass was gone, but Banks and her running buddy Alexis Hall were back for Harrison Central. And much like WC’s 1982 team, the Red Rebelettes were laying waste to the opposition. They entered the 5A final against the two-time defending champion Lady Vikes, with a 39-0 record.

“All I could think of going in, was here we were 39-0 and boy would they love to get us back,” Holmes said.

Henderson said the Red Rebelettes were ever bit a juggernaut.

“That was the best team I’ve ever coached against. And it was Greg’s only team to beat us in the state tournament. All five starters were so good. Charlotte Banks and Alexis Hall, they were just great, going up and down the court,” Henderson said.

“I knew our only chance was for us to hold the ball – like they had done to us. We had to do it early, just to have a chance. We still lost by 10 (45-35), but that was the closest any team came to them that year.”

In 1989, Henderson wrapped up his tenure at WC by beating Starkville 55-36 in the final. But to get there, his Lady Vikes had to sweat out a nerve-wracking semi-final against Harrison Central.

“If you got far enough, eventually, you’ll run into them,” Henderson said of the Red Rebelettes.

Led by Shelly Murrell’s 11 points, WC squeaked out a 27-26 win. With HC gone, the Lady Vikes had an easy time with Starkville.

Henderson left to take the head coaching job at Mississippi State, becoming the second coach in the series to jump from high school to the SEC.

The Lady Vikes would not reach the state finals again until a team of overachievers in 1995-96 made it to the Big House.

Harrison Central won in dominating fashion, 73-46. This was the second of three straight titles and its 11th overall.

The Red Rebelettes won again in 1998, giving them a Mississippi record 12 state championships.

Warren Central has not won a championship since its great teams of the 1980s.

This is the first time since the 1995-96 team that the Lady Vikes have advanced this far.