After years of losing, Lady Eagles find winning formula

Published 8:00 am Friday, December 8, 2017

For more than a decade, there hasn’t been much to cheer about at girls’ basketball games at Porter’s Chapel Academy.

Winless seasons have been as common as the occasional victory. The team won four games in six years and had a 42-game losing streak at one point. Its win percentage this decade is in the single digits.

This year’s Lady Eagles, though, are doing their best to put that well in the past. They beat Franklin Academy 30-28 on Tuesday night for their fourth win of the season, matching the program’s total from 2010-16.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Their 4-8 record is still well below .500, but for the first time in a long time there is at least reason for optimism and joy within the program.

“It’s great, and it’s great for the kids. A lot of them, especially the seniors, have been here since they were in seventh grade and to have it come together now is huge for them,” PCA coach Amanda Yocum said. “It’s tough to come out day after day if there’s a feeling like we’re not going to win, and they don’t think like that any more.”

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, PCA was a state championship contender. The program gradually dropped off until about 2007, when the talent pool dried up and everything cratered.

For the next 10 years, the girls’ games were an agonizing warmup act for the more successful boys’ team. When the boys won the MAIS Class A championship in 2013, the girls were enduring a winless season.

With their early-season success this year, senior Rheagan Smith said she’s noticed some more fans and excitement around the girls’ team.

“Normally, we’re used to the JV or varsity guys getting cheered on, but this year we have people coming to cheer us on no matter what,” Smith said.

Yocum, who took over as coach in 2014, credited the turnaround to hard work as much as a more talented group of players than the team has had in recent years. When things were at their worst, Yocum said she started from the ground up by focusing on literally the most basic of fundamentals — like dribbling and shooting.

As players grew more comfortable with their skills, she started implementing some basic offensive and defensive schemes.

“We try to learn one or two of those big concepts every year. Most of the time we set up in a 2-3 zone (defense) and don’t press, but this year we’ve started to press a little bit and have been able to break a press. We’re better in those areas than we’ve been,” Yocum said.

Smith said she’s seen the improvement in her and her teammates.

“Our ballhandlers have gotten so much better with their control, their shooting, and working inside,” Smith said after scoring six points, including the go-ahead basket on a putback layup with 20 seconds left, in Tuesday’s win over Franklin. “We worked inside tonight and it’s the best we’ve done all year. We’ve been working on that in practice.”

Extra depth has also helped. There have been seasons when the Lady Eagles only had six or seven players on the roster. Last season, there were 14 and this year there are 15.

“We have not had the same five girls on the floor for any given time. I’ve got 10 with some experience, and we’ve been working different people at different positions,” Yocum said. “You wonder about chemistry sometimes, but you’re confident with each player.”

As the Lady Eagles have gotten the basics down, Yocum said she’s been able to point out other things to work on. They were only 8-for-23 from the free throw line and struggled with turnovers against Franklin, for example. Three of the missed free throws came in the final 20 seconds and gave Franklin a chance to win the game at the end, instead of having it already closed out.

Even so, the Lady Eagles are enjoying their success. For the first time in a long time, the postseason — other than a token mandatory appearance in the district tournament — seems like a possibility. Wins are a possibility. Fun is a given.

“It is fun, especially with how hard we’ve worked the last couple of years,” Smith said.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

email author More by Ernest