Gators, Missy Gators have sights set on state championships

Published 8:05 am Sunday, February 5, 2023

For the past decade or so, even when they’ve had some of their best teams, the Vicksburg Gators always felt like the underdog in the basketball postseason.

Not this time.

The Gators start their march toward a state championship next week when they host the MHSAA Region 4-5A tournament as the No. 1 seed and top-ranked boys’ team in Class 5A by

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After years of trying to find a way to overcome future NBA stars, Mississippi high school legends, and future Division I talents, being the hunted instead of the hunter is new ground for a program that is no stranger to high-stakes games.

“It’s very, very unfamiliar territory,” Vicksburg coach Kelvin Carter said. “Last year we had to play the play-in game to move ahead. The four years prior to that, we were always second place. So it feels good to have a bye for a change.”

If it’s unfamiliar territory, it’s not entirely unexpected. The Gators finished 12-17 last season, but only lost one senior to graduation. Among the returning players are guards Davian Williams, Malik Franklin and Jaylin Jackson, who are averaging a combined 38 points per game.

The Gators won 27 of 28 games during their summer schedule, and entered the regular-season finale Friday vs. Clinton with a 25-2 record. The summer, Carter said, set the stage for success this winter.

“We’ve been thinking about that since the summer. We’re 25-2, but we were 27-1 during the summer. And we’ve played competition,” Carter said. “I’ll stack my guys up against anybody in the state this year in 5A. I think we’re going to make a run to the Coliseum.”

The boys’ team isn’t the only one at Vicksburg High thinking that. The Missy Gators are the No. 2 seed for the Region 4-5A girls’ tournament — they’ll play Jim Hill in their opener Tuesday at 6 p.m. — and eyeing a deep postseason run of their own.

The Missy Gators reached the Mississippi Coliseum and the Class 5A semifinals in 2020, but have lost to Neshoba Central the next two years. Neshoba Central reached the semifinals in 2021 and won the Class 5A championship in 2022.

There are eight seniors on this year’s roster, and coach Troy Stewart left no doubt what the expectations are.

“It’s disappointing if we don’t win it. Every year is going to be a disappointment with that group of girls,” he said. “I don’t want to just walk into the Coliseum. If we go for the first time with this group, I want to win it. The ladies have the same aspiration. They’ve been laser focused in the last week or two.”

The Missy Gators (23-5) certainly have the look of a championship team. Led by the senior trio of Layla Carter, JaNa Colenburg and Janiah Caples, they have won 12 of their last 13 games, capped by a 65-62 win over Clinton on Friday. A 71-65 loss to Callaway on Jan. 17 was their only blemish in that stretch, and the reason they are the No. 2 seed instead of No. 1.

Callaway finished first in Region 4-5A and will play either Forest Hill or Provine Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the semifinals.
With so many seniors, and with a team playing so well, Stewart said there is some sense of urgency to win now before the roster reboots a bit next year. He said his players, though, are living in the moment.

“I think more with me than with them. They truly enjoy the game of basketball, so they’re having fun while they’re doing it. I don’t think the magnitude has hit them quite yet,” Stewart said.

Both Vicksburg teams, meanwhile, appear to have a shot at sharing one shining moment in Jackson in early March. For two coaches who cut their teeth together as assistants in Vicksburg’s program, and two teams who have come into their own at the same time, Carter said bringing two state championships back to the River City would be “sweet.”

“It’s awesome, because Coach Stewart and myself came in together at the same time. Us possibly being in the Coliseum together would be so sweet for Vicksburg High School,” Carter said.

Region 4-5A Tournament
At Vicksburg High
Monday, Feb. 6
6 p.m. – Forest Hill vs. Provine (Girls)
7:30 p.m. – Callaway vs. Jim Hill (Boys)
Tuesday, Feb. 7
6 p.m. – Vicksburg vs. Jim Hill (Girls)
7:30 p.m. – Provine vs. Forest Hill (Boys)
Wednesday, Feb. 8
6 p.m. – Callaway vs. Forest Hill/Provine winner (Girls)
7:30 p.m. – Vicksburg vs. Callaway/Jim Hill winner (Boys)
Thursday, Feb. 9
6 p.m. – Girls consolation game
7:30 p.m. – Boys consolation game
Friday, Feb. 10
6 p.m. – Girls championship game
7:30 p.m. – Boys championship game

Tickets for all games are available through

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.

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