Natchez girls basketball prepares for repeat attempt in 2014
Published 12:05 am Wednesday, October 15, 2014
The word “repeat” is inescapable for the Natchez Lady Bulldogs.
Months after their 54-51 victory against South Jones in the 2014 MHSAA 5A Girls Basketball Championship Game, Natchez High School members have been greeted with a question, instead of being congratulated, seemingly everywhere they go.
“People ask us, ‘How are y’all looking this year? Are y’all going to repeat?’” junior Ernesha Chatman said.
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It’s even reached the point where junior Zyaire Ewing never meets a stranger in Natchez.
“It’s people we haven’t ever seen before,” Ewing said. “I’m just ready for the season to start.”
Head coach Alphaka Moore admitted she too gets those questions frequently, and it’s a question that she is reluctant to answer.
“That’s something I can’t say because though we have a lot of the same girls, the team changes every year,” Moore said.
Most of the key elements of last year’s championship team remain in place. In fact, four starters return. The Bulldogs have to replace its leading scorer in Kiana Jones, who averaged 12 points per game, but will have Ewing and senior Rashonae Rice back, who totaled 20 points per game last year, representing the front court.
Chatman averaged seven points, while Kirdis Clark averaged eight points per game as a freshman last season. Numerous schools such as Wichita State, Vanderbilt, Southern Miss, Kansas, Louisiana Tech and Grambling State are recruiting a majority of the upperclassmen, and have even shown interest in underclassmen.
Despite the Bulldogs’ returning star power, Natchez is aware the level of difficulty increases after winning a state title.
“Everybody sees us as a target, and they want to take us down,” Rice said. “We’re not going to let that happen, though.”
Moore acknowledged that proverbial “bullseye” on her team’s back, drawing from last year’s circumstance of playing a reigning champion, and remembering the attitude her team had.
“Before, we were the ones under the radar, and we were the ones going after people,” Moore said. “When we played Canton, our main goal was, ‘They are the previous champions so we have to beat them.’ Everybody is coming at us with that same mentality, so we can’t get a big head.”
The key factor in battling their own high expectations is to keep everything the same, and go about business as usual. At least, that’s the way Moore is approaching the new season that kicks off on Nov. 21.
“If you change your philosophy, it’s like your putting more pressure on yourself,” Moore said. “Same goal — take each game one step at a time.”
Moore’s approach challenges Natchez players to keep a level head, something Rice wants to convey to her teammates as one of the few Bulldog seniors.
“It challenges us to stay humble,” Rice said.
While NHS’ ultimate goal may be to repeat as champions again, Moore said she wants her team to reflect the mentality of last year’s team, further enriching the Bulldogs’ growing basketball tradition.
“A lot of people didn’t know Natchez before that championship,” Moore said. “That was our chance to make people recognize. For me as a coach, if we were to do it again, it’s all about proving we deserve to be there.”