Missy Gators happy to reach state tournament in rebuilding season

Published 2:15 pm Thursday, February 15, 2024

At a glance, a 10-19 record after averaging 20 wins the previous four seasons doesn’t seem all that great.

For the Vicksburg Missy Gators, however, it’s a sign of a bright future.

Vicksburg lost eight seniors and only returned three. It has reached the MHSAA Class 6A state tournament and had seven losses by seven points or less. For a rebuilding year, coach Troy Stewart said, he’s very happy with the progress.

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“I think this season has been successful, even with the record. We had an extremely tough out of conference schedule, and our conference is extremely tough too. So for us to end up with 10 wins so far, I’m proud of it,” Stewart said. “And we made the playoffs. That was one of our goals this season, to just make the playoffs, and we attained that first goal. Now our job is to try to win a couple of games in the playoffs.”

The first opportunity to get that job done comes Friday night. The Missy Gators will go on the road to play Olive Branch (16-15) in the first round of the Class 6A state tournament. Tip-off is at 6 p.m.

Vicksburg has won three of its last four games, with the only loss coming to a Neshoba Central team that is one of the favorites to win the Class 6A championship.

Among the wins was a 34-33 victory over Ridgeland in the Region 2-6A tournament consolation game. Vicksburg won it after losing to the Lady Titans by 39 points 10 days earlier.

“I just wanted us to get one percent better, or always try to be better than the last game, in the next game. I think we’ve done a good job with that,” Stewart said. “We’re at our peak performance right now. I thought we played extremely well against Ridgeland — especially since a week prior to that game they beat us by 20. I think we’re on the way back. We’re doing a good job. We’re maturing in the right places.”

The Missy Gators started the season on a nine-game losing streak, partially because they were breaking in so many new starters. The eight seniors that graduated saw the bulk of the playing time the past couple of seasons while the team was contending for a state championship.

Besides some inexperience, the returning veterans were thrust into new roles. Terri Boyd returned after leaving the team last season and has been a solid defender. Kierra James was counted on to be a focal point of the offense rather than a role player.

“Kierra’s done an excellent job of holding the offense in place. When we’ve needed someone to go to, she’s been that go-to lady,” Stewart said.

Rodrianna Hall had to play point guard rather than shooting guard because she was the best option.

“Rodrianna has done probably the best job that I’ve seen in a long time because she’s playing out of position,” Stewart said. “She’s not a true point guard but she’s fit her brain around playing point guard and done an excellent job trying to make that transition.”

Along with the seniors, several players who will be back next season have shown potential. Junior Cynia Johnson has had several double-digit scoring games and freshman Kenley Henderson has contributed since moving up to the varsity in late January.

“The entire goal is to make your entire team as good as it can be with the players that you have. I think we’re doing a great job putting people in places that are going to help us down the line or in the future,” Stewart said. “My current seniors are doing an excellent job of being leaders and taking the group under their wing.”

Now, the Missy Gators will try to fly into the second round of the postseason.

While he obviously would like to make a Cinderella run to the Coliseum, Stewart has always approached this season with the big picture in mind. A state tournament victory would add another layer to what is already a solid foundation.

“It was always going to be a tough year. I thought we played extremely well. Everybody stepped up and played their part,” Stewart said. “I’m happy with the results so far. We’re just going to keep plugging away and try to get a win Friday.”

• Friday, 6 p.m.
• Girls MHSAA Class 6A tournament, first round

• Saturday, 4 p.m.
• Boys MHSAA Class 6A tournament, first round

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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