Sports year in review: Coaching changes, heartbreaking losses lead 2017

Published 12:15 am Saturday, December 30, 2017

Through many twists and turns, athletics in the Miss-Lou took a winding road over the course of the 2017 calendar year.

As the roller coaster of sports had plenty of loops, it was nothing short of exhilarating.

Here’s a look into the most notable story lines over the year:

Email newsletter signup

Coaching shuffle

Among a handful of open positions, new and returning coaches took this year to build and shape local athletic programs into their own.

Vidalia High School football coach Dee Faircloth returned to the head position after coaching the program for 42 years and retiring in 2009. He led the Vikings to their first winning season since 2004 with a record of 9-3.

Stanley Smith was named the head football coach at Ferriday High School in March. A 2001 graduate of Ferriday, he led the Trojans to a record of 11-3.

Delta Charter’s Blake Wheeler also experienced his first year as head coach to round out new football coaches.

In his first year, Vidalia baseball coach Mike Norris led the Vikings to their first home playoff game since 2009, losing just one senior to graduation.

ShaRhonda Gipson took over the Natchez High School girls basketball program in June, returning to the school after serving as an assistant from 2009-12.

Mo Rodriguez was hired in August to lead the boys and girls basketball programs at Trinity, as well as the baseball team. Jennifer Harrison was also named the softball coach for the Lady Saints this year.

Adam Terragnoli was named the head soccer coach at Vidalia, aiding the school to build upon the program’s first year.

Additionally, Trinity’s Graham Roberts added to his coaching duties by taking over as the school’s athletic director and Cathedral’s Craig Beesley added another sport by leading this year’s softball team for the first time.

Coming up short

This year was filled with heartbreaking losses, with many area teams falling just short of their championship dreams.

Trinity lost its football championship in November, falling to West Memphis in overtime of the MAIS Class A title game, 56-48. The Saints won their district title outright for the first time in three years.

Ferriday reached the LHSAA Class 2A football semifinals for the first time since 1995, falling to St. Helena on the last play of the game, 12-6. Adams County Christian School and Centreville Academy also fell in their respective semifinal football games. All three teams won their district championships.

Alcorn State University was robbed of a football SWAC Championship, falling to Grambling State in early December, 40-32.

After ranking No. 1 for the first time in school history, Sicily Island High School reached the semifinals of LHSAA Class 1A boys basketball. The Tigers fell to White Castle, 58-42.

Finally, Trinity’s girls basketball team fell to Marshall Academy in the semifinals of the MAIS Class AA State Tournament in February.

Big time players

Among a multitude of scholarship offers, four football players signed to play at Division I schools this year.

In February, Cathedral’s Will Wallace signed with Tulane University while ACCS’ George Scott took his talents to Louisiana Tech University.

A few weeks ago, Ferriday High School’s Dare Rosenthal and Dantrieze Scott solidified their commitments to Louisiana State University by inking their National Letters of Intent on early signing day.

Trinity’s D’Asia Mitchell also signed to a Division I program to play basketball at Jackson State University this past April.

Loss of legend

Natchez lost a legend this year after star football player Joe Fortunato died in early November.

Fortunato was known by friends and family for his big heart, gentle understanding and giving nature. The former Chicago Bears linebacker was honored by Mississippi State University in October when he was inducted into the school’s “Ring of Honor.”

Runners prevail

Cathedral highlighted a year of runners with its second consecutive state championship in boys cross county in October. Lead runner Jalen McCoy also won an individual track state title in the 1600 meter run.

Trinity’s Dee Fleming and Kevontaye Caston also won individual track titles this year.

Fleming took home first-place medals in the long jump and triple jump, while Caston notched his win in the 100 meter dash. The duo also won titles in the 4×100 and 4×200 meter relays alongside David Jackson and Jakarius Caston.

Franklin County High School’s Leandria Elam claimed two individual state championships in MHSAA Class 3A track and field by placing first in the 100 and 300 meter hurdles. Dominique White added another title for the Bulldogs with a first-place finish in boys shotput.

Top tennis

Trinity’s tennis team rounded out this year’s roster of all seniors by claiming a state championship in mixed doubles.

Duo Grant Falkenheiner and Lucy Pyron took home the MAIS AA title in May.

Going green

Alongside a newly completed field house in August, Cathedral School added to a fresh look by naming its football field after longtime coach Ken Beesley Sr.

Beesley was honored during a football game in September for his nearly 40 years dedication to the school.

Game of the year

Vidalia made history by defeating parish rival Ferriday for the first time since 2008.

The Vikings notched their win over the No. 1 Trojans on Oct. 13, 20-12.