Head coaches share similar path to state championship game
NATCHEZ — To suggest Natchez head coach Alphaka Moore and West Jones coach Sharon Murray are good friends might be an exaggeration.
To consider the opposing coaches as casual friends might be pushing it, too. At most, Moore and Murray describe their relationship between one another as acquaintances, but that’s not to say they don’t share multiple similar bonds. Each are from Laurel — Moore attended Laurel High School while Murray attended West Jones High School — and both are relatively new to the coaching game — Moore and Murray are both in their fourth year as head coach (Moore is in her third with Natchez High). But the newest link they share involves the MHSAA Class 5A State Championship, which both will battle for at 6 p.m.
Moore and Murray, who played against each other in high school and alongside each other in summer ball, met through mutual friends in 2005. Ever since, they have distantly kept up with one another, growing closer through the years as opposing coaches.
“We talk all the time,” Moore said. “We talked right after the division tournament this year, and we were talking about our sides of the bracket. I was telling her, ‘You’ve got it made, you’re on the easier side!’”
Both weren’t always chatty. Murray recalled an instance where the two shared few words, a time as recent as 2014. Following the Lady Bulldogs 71-50 win against West Jones in the regional playoffs last year, Murray and Moore’s interaction that followed could be classified as short and sweet.
“They had just beaten us by 20, and so we didn’t share any type of emotional moment or anything,” Murray said. “I think we’ll have one after this game since it’s the state championship. If we can’t get it done, I’ll be glad to see her get it done.”
Moore said she dreaded having to play against Murray last season, especially since it was early in the playoffs.
“I hated it,” Moore said. “But both of us made it to the state championship, so this year, I’m happy we made it this far.”
In the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson, the stage will be set for Murray and Moore to play with heavy stakes on the line. Though both have said they’ve taken the one-game-at-a-time approach to get to the title game, both Murray and Moore predicted the state championship matchup after the brackets were released.
“We both saw this coming,” Murray said. “Both of us thought we’d be here, so here it is. It’s time to leave it all on the court.”
Murray described her 26-7 Lady Mustangs as an up-tempo team with a lot of speed. What West Jones lacks in size, Murray said the team makes up for in toughness and swarming defense.
Meanwhile, Moore’s 23-1 Lady Bulldogs have an experienced, championship-caliber team, having won the state title in 2014. Zyaire Ewing and Rashonae Rice, the Lady Bulldogs’ primary post players, dominated the paint in the semifinals game against Pearl Monday night, combining for 38 points in the 71-51 victory.
Overcoming NHS’ size will be one of many puzzles for Murray to solve tonight, but regardless of the matchups, Murray said her team was looking forward to taking on the Lady Bulldogs again.
Murray and Moore’s coaching careers, shared background and similar path to the state title game will only generate more hype for a game both coaches are anticipating to be a back-and-forth war. Good friends or not, Moore relishes in the friendly competition and hopes to win her second straight state championship tonight.
“I wish her the best, but I have to make sure it’s me that pulls it out,” Moore said.