Journey to the Tourney: Moore, Lady Bulldogs try to bring program back to glory days
Published 12:03 am Sunday, March 9, 2014
NATCHEZ — The Natchez High School Lady Bulldogs have come a long way in two short years, but head coach Alphaka Moore said their work is far from over.
Moore came to Natchez High in 2012 to rebuild a girls basketball program that once had a reputation for greatness. Her main focus was reminding alumni why the basketball court was named after legendary girls coach Jean Irving and why the gym was packed night in and night out.
Moore is on the right track to returning the program back to its glory days, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
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“Natchez High had to deal with a lot of things going on, and there hasn’t been a lot of focus on the kids,” Moore said. “But now we regained that confidence that let’s get excited about coming to Natchez High instead of the uncertainties (of other things).”
To see the number of NHS alumni, students and fans filling the stands every home game was motivating, Moore said, but winning the South State championship for Natchez High and its fan base wasn’t easy.
The Lady Bulldogs had to lose before they found out what winning felt like.
On Feb. 18, 2013, Natchez High made it to the first round of the MHSAA Class 6A playoffs, but the Lady Bulldogs were ousted 47-37 by Ocean Springs High School.
Senior guard Kiana Jones said she still remembers the disappointment she felt after that loss, but in retrospect, the loss was the start of something great.
“When we lost, I think it built our team to where we thought we could actually win,” Jones said. “(Before then), we barely got past district, we always came out second, so to get that far meant a lot.”
The Lady Bulldogs moved on from the loss and quickly began summer workouts.
With her first year as a head coach down, Moore knew what needed to change, and the 2013-2014 season would start way before school began.
“A lot of coaches use the summer to do tournaments and summer play, but we focused on any skills that they lacked,” Moore said. “Their ball handling skills weren’t nearly where they are now. It was weights every day, running miles every day, ball handling and gaining knowledge. We practiced against boys, and it made them have to think a lot quicker.”
By the time the 2013-2014 season began, the Lady Bulldogs were shaping up to be one of the best teams in the state.
Natchez High started its season off 11-0, beating teams by at least 15 points a night.
But just like their playoff game against Ocean Springs, the Lady Bulldogs needed to be humbled.
Natchez High lost two of its three games at the Hattiesburg High School Coca-Cola Holiday Classic in the last week of December, and the long weekend of troubles gave the Lady Bulldogs new goals to add to their New Year’s Resolutions.
No one looks at losses as a good thing, but Jones saw the positive in the team’s downfall.
“At the beginning (of the season), we didn’t play as many teams on our level, so we thought we were good, but the reality check hit us when we lost to South Jones (High School) and it showed us anybody could lose at any time,” Jones said.
2014 was a new start for the Lady Bulldogs, as they recorded zero losses heading into the South State tournament they had the pleasure of hosting, but they would soon feel a blast from the past when they saw the name South Jones again in the South State Championship game. Instead of being intimidated, the players and coaches were motivated.
In the battle against South Jones, the Lady Bulldogs pulled out an upset, winning 34-30 to become the South’s No. 1-seed going into the state tournament.
Sophomore guard Ernesha Chatman said the hard-fought game proved they could beat anybody if they put their minds to it.
“We knew we had the game, it was all mental, all we had to do was make up our mind that we’re going to win,” Chatman said. “We made it that far, we knew we couldn’t go back.”
But with all of the positive light shining on the basketball team, Moore is far from satisfied.
There are still two games to be played, and it’s the games that matter the most for Natchez High.
The Lady Bulldogs are now focusing their energy on Canton High School, the North No. 2-seed in the first round of the MHSAA Class 5A state tournament.
Natchez and Canton meet at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson at 1 p.m. Monday.
Moore is getting her players ready by simply showing them they have what it takes to be champions.
“They just need to play their game,” Moore said. “They have to be confident and never forget what their main goal is, which is to play as a team and focus on the advantages that we do have on the other team.”
Their advantage, Moore said, is there are no super stars.
“When you look at our stats, we never have one consistent player, its never one player who is always shining,” she said.