Thursday, March 8, 2012
‘Togetherness’ leads to success at Byers
By BARRY BURLESON
Kyra Gulledge grimaced in pain.
This was the state championship game. She’s a senior. She wanted to contribute more on the floor.
“She gutted it out and tried,” said her head coach, Jason Thompson.
But the pain in her knee was too much. She had to be helped off the court.
“I was depressed all week,” said Gulledge, after an injury in practice.
“It was hard knowing this was my last game.
“But I helped from the bench, cheering my team on, and we came out with the win.”
The Lady Lions beat district rival Coldwater for the fourth time this season and claimed back-to-back Class 1A state titles. It was their fourth in five years – winning the Class 2A crown in 2008 and 2009.
Gulledge is just one example of the teamwork that has grown to become commonplace in Lady Lion country.
“The kids understand the significance of togetherness, regardless of who is on the court,” Thompson said. “Everyone can contribute to the team’s success. We have a mix of great players who know how to get it done – great players and great kids. We’ve played without key players all season. It just shows everybody else what I already know.”
A couple who stepped up big time Friday afternoon in “The Big House” were senior Alexis Hardaway, who has battled a knee injury in high school, and junior Justice Martin. They scored 24 and 21 points, respectively.
Hardaway, an Austin Peay signee, said her battle cry was “attack, attack, attack.”
“I wanted to play my game,” she said. “I knew I had to step it up. I’m so glad to go out this way, with another state championship. Thank God.”
Hardaway, Kyra Gulledge, and Dominique Rubin have been members of all four state championship teams.
Coach Thompson, when asked about Hardaway’s performance Saturday, said, “She’s our go-to player.”
“There’s no time like the present, and I knew she could do it,” Thompson said. “She played with heart.”
Hardaway was named the C-Spire Player of the Game.
As for Martin’s outstanding performance, he said, “She is one of the most outstanding kids I’ve ever coached. Her motor is always running. That’s something she’s been doing all season.”
As has become a custom, Coach Thompson gave no credit to himself when asked about the Byers Lady Lions’ success. It was their sixth straight trip to Jackson and Mississippi Coliseum for the state tournament.
“The kids have worked so hard,” he said. “They’ve created a winning atmosphere – a winning tradition. It’s a great testament to the kids.”
But he did not back off when asked if his program, based at the small school on Highway 72 in Marshall County, has become a “dynasty.”
“Well, we’ve two in 2A and two in 1A in the last five years,” Thompson said. “That’s a tremendous accomplishment.”
He said receiving the “gold ball” at mid-court never gets old.
“It’s irreplaceable,” Thompson said. “I want to keep feeling it.”
Hardaway, who will graduate in May, said the tradition will continue.
“It will, because that man (pointing to her coach) will bring it out of you,” she said. “It will happen again.”
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