A resolute stare can wear down even the most steadfast coach.
STARKVILLE -- Young. Established. Re-focused.
Timid. Maturing. Changed.
A game of word association can be limiting and revealing at the same time. When Mississippi State seniors Breanna Richardson and Ketara Chapel are asked for one word to describe each of their first three seasons, it's illuminating to see how their choices reflect the ups and downs of their individual careers.
Sean Harrison has talked all season about how important it is for the Heritage Academy Patriots to play physical football.
It says something about the Patriots' progress that Harrison can proclaim his players delivered the most physical week 10 of practice he has been a part of as a coach.
Heritage Academy's ability to continue to play that brand of football will be crucial at 7 tonight when it plays host to Leake Academy in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 regular-season finale at C.L. Mitchell Field.
CALEDONIA -- Daily improvement has been a key for Andy Crotwell ever since he took over as head coach of the Caledonia High School football team.
A year older and wiser with all of its pieces back is an enviable position to be in.
Debbie Antonelli doesn't need nearly 30 years experience as a college basketball television analyst and commentator to know experience and depth have pushed the 2016-17 Mississippi State women's basketball team into the top 15 of all of the preseason rankings.
MACON -- The march is nearly complete.
But Noxubee County High School football coach Tyrone Shorter doesn't want his team to look ahead to what is coming down the road. Instead of losing focus and jumping ahead a week to a showdown against Houston, the No. 2 team in the state's Class 4A rankings, or the start of the playoffs and a quest for a third-straight state championship, Shorter wants his players' attention solely on Caledonia.
PHILADELPHIA -- Cheering from the dugout is a constant in softball.
Some teams take pride in devising catchy new phrases, while others stick with familiar sayings to motivate their hitters.
The Neshoba Central High School slow-pitch softball team doesn't need words to provide a spark, but it showed Tuesday it is just as skilled delivering a timely phrase as it is peppering a softball.
CALEDONIA -- It's safe to say Samantha Brooks was curious in the preseason when asked how the Caledonia High School volleyball team was going to fare in 2016.
On paper, Brooks knew her Lady Confederates didn't have a lot of size, which meant they weren't going to be a dominating blocking team. With a total of five freshmen and sophomores on the 12-player varsity roster, Brooks also wasn't sure how Caledonia's youth would blend with its experience, especially seniors Kaylee Jernigan, Gracie McCleskey, Jensen Reed, and Cheyenne Ruth.
STARKVILLE -- Sydney Passons has seen enough movies to wonder if time really slows down in real life like it does on the big screen.
Last Monday, the Starkville Academy senior forward experienced just how quickly events appear to come to a stand still. Passons doesn't remember the things her teammates yelled to her after she collected a loose ball in overtime because she didn't hear them.
Megan James will play softball this weekend.
The only problem is the New Hope High School junior doesn't know if she will be in Ridgeland or Tupelo, or if she will be playing slow- or fast-pitch softball.
STARKVILLE -- Chinwe Okorie looked like a machine.
It was less than an hour into the Mississippi State women's basketball team's first practice of the 2016-17 and the 6-foot-5 senior center was moving well and keeping up with the Bulldogs' guards and forwards in a drill designed to have the players finish at the rim off fast breaks.
STARKVILLE -- "Slow down."
Teaira McCowan isn't sure how many times she heard those words in her first season with the Mississippi State women's basketball time. If she had to guess, she probably would say she heard them more from MSU coach Vic Schaefer, associate head coach Johnnie Harris, who coaches the post players, and the rest of the coaching staff more than any other Bulldog.
"Last year, I was really nervous about messing up and not doing well," McCowan said.
Challenges don't scare Roxanne Hernandez.
Ever since she can remember, Hernandez has welcomed the feeling of having to perform at the highest level when faced with a deadline.
Like most people, Hernandez acknowledges she has the worries, butterflies, and doubts she will be able to complete her work. When those thoughts bounce around in her head, all she has to do is come back to the words of her mother, Linda, and she is fine.
Gary Griffin wants to keep a good thing going.
As a longtime assistant coach to Sammy Smith, Griffin saw the positive effects of the Columbus High School boys basketball team's work in the community. He also saw how fans in the community came out and supported the Falcons when they played at home.
Last season, Griffin saw that support and excitement increase behind a team many believed could win the program's first state championship.
Sean Harrison feels the Heritage Academy football team has accomplished plenty through eight games, so he doesn't need any measuring sticks to help him determine how much progress his players have made since the beginning of the season.
But it's natural to want to test yourself against the best teams, which is why Harrison is eager to find out how his team reacts at 7 tonight when it takes on Indianola Academy.
Kris Pickle isn't sure how his team will react tonight.
Ordinarily, any New Hope High School team would be sky high and eagerly anticipating a game against Oxford, which is one of its biggest rivals.
At 7 tonight, though, Pickle doesn't know how the New Hope High football team will respond for its Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A, Region 1 matchup against Oxford.
Kevin Deslauriers knows how to relate to volleyball players.
After coaching them for 25 years at a variety of levels, including in college and in a club setting, Deslauriers understands the balance it takes to get boys and girls of all ages to grasp concepts and to buy into a team mentality.
Deslauriers also knows having a presence helps a coach connect with players. Twenty-five years of experience tells Deslauriers that Roxanne Hernandez has that intangible.
MACON -- Tyrone Shorter doesn't know why M.C. Miller started using a toothpick when he coached football games.
Nineteen years ago, when Miller hired Shorter to be an assistant coach with the Noxubee County High School football team, Miller already had developed a reputation for his ability to keep the toothpick in his mouth while he was getting on his players
Shorter still isn't sure how Miller manages to get on his players and not lose the toothpick, but he admits he never considered emulating his longtime boss, who is now the head coach of the Louisville High football team.
Stay Strong was more than a phrase written in black ink on a fluorescent green-yellow piece of poster board for Lanoria Abrams, Alex Melton, and the rest of the New Hope High School slow-pitch softball team on Tuesday night.
STARKVILLE -- Togetherness is a familiar concept for Lauren Lyle.
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