Thursday, March 13, 2008
Lady Lions state champs
By BARRY BURLESON
Simone Ryan kissed the gold ball as she left the Mississippi Coliseum floor Thursday night.
“This feels great,” said Ryan, as teammates passed around the state championship trophy during the post-game party. “We’re blessed. It’s been our goal since my first game in ninth grade. I knew we could get it by my senior year.”
She’s one of four seniors on this 35-4 team, which also has district and north half championship trophies. The others are Marian Parker, Octavian Jones and Bianca Seldon.
Junior Rachel Jones, the floor general for coach Jason Thompson’s Lady Lions, was smiling and also fighting back the joyous tears at game’s end.
“I can’t explain it,” Jones said. “I’m so happy we won. We won as a team. We all played our roles. We’ve done that all season. We all believed in each other.”
It’s H.W. Byers’ first state crown in any sport. It’s the first girls basketball state championship for any public school in Marshall County.
“This is an awesome feeling,” said Coach Thompson by phone the morning after the huge 63-59 victory over Philadelphia. “I woke up early (at the team’s hotel) and said to myself, ‘Wow, that actually happened. We actually won the state championship.’”
He said the mission started March of last year when the Lady Lions lost to Coahoma County in the state semi-finals - that coming after a first-round win. It was their first state tournament berth ever.
“I wanted to give them a week or two off, but they didn’t want it,” Thompson said. “They went straight to work the next day. They wanted another shot.”
A year later they got it and delivered.
“We were focused all year and played as a team,” said Thompson, in his seventh season coaching at his alma mater. “Every team has great players who can do certain things. My team is no different. But my team is more about functioning together. When we do that, we’re a pleasure to watch, and that’s the effort we put together last night (in the state title contest). It was very special.”
He thanked the H.W. Byers fans for their outstanding support, plus those who backed his team from throughout Marshall County and north Mississippi.
“This brought us all together,” Thompson said.
And the season isn’t over for H.W. Byers. Next up is a matchup with unbeaten Class A champion Coldwater in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Grand Slam Tournament. The Lady Lions and Lady Cougars will tangle Thursday at 6 p.m. at the BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Thompson said. “We want to be the best team (overall) in the state and this is that opportunity. Don’t be surprised if we’re in the hunt. On a given date, I like our chances against anybody we play.”
Byers will be motivated by revenge. It lost to Coldwater 54-49 earlier this season in the Northwest Rangers Classic at Senatobia. Both teams entered that game 16-0.
“They stopped our streak,” Thompson said. “They’re still undefeated (34-0), and we will be ready. We’re looking forward to it.”
The Byers-Coldwater winner will face Gentry, the undefeated Class 4A champion, Friday at 6 p.m. in the grand slam semi-finals.
The championship game will be played Saturday at 1 p.m.
For a complete list of games and times, see page 3 of the sports section.
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