March 10, 2018 11:02:16 PM
JACKSON -- Starkville High School senior guard Jariyah Covington was there when senior center Kirsten Thompson needed a lift.
"Every day during the offseason, we kept telling her she could be the next Kelsey Jones," Covington said. "She really needed a lot of encouraging. The other seniors stayed on her because we knew she could make us a great team."
Turns out, Thompson made the Lady Jackets a state champion.
Thompson scored 21 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and blocked three shots as Starkville beat Murrah 46-27 in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State championship game Saturday night at Mississippi Coliseum.
Starkville (28-2) repeated as champions and won its third title in the present format by beating a region rival for the third time in four meetings.
Coach Kristie Williams played on one state championship team and has now coached the other two. She understood the element Thompson could bring to a squad that lost Jones to graduation.
"The conditioning was difficult," Williams said. "She was struggling in a lot of areas. She kept working at it. By the time the offseason finished she was first. You could tell the light was flickering. Once we got it on full-time she really became a dominant player."
Thompson enjoyed a size advantage against the shorter Lady Mustangs. Through the earlier three meetings, she had a sense of what would work.
"It was a huge advantage (playing Murrah for a fourth time)," Thompson said. "We had a lot of confidence from the last two wins against them. Once a couple of baskets went through early, I felt like I could dominate. The rebounding part comes natural."
Thompson was honored before the game with the C Spire Scholar Athlete award, which is given to the player in the state championship game with the highest grade-point average and ACT score.
"Kirsten can do it all," Williams said. "She showed tonight that she can put up a 4.68 (GPA) in the classroom and a 28 on the ACT and can score 21 points in a basketball game. She is special. She works hard to be the absolute best at everything she does."
Starkville was dominant from the opening tip, forcing eight turnovers in the first quarter. An 8-0 run ended one quarter, started the next, and gave Starkville a 12-6 lead. From there, the Lady Jackets used a 10-0 run for a 24-10 lead.
While Thompson was doing a bulk of the scoring (nine points in the half), her ability to alter shots and to make Murrah timid in the paint area was huge.
"Really proud of her for all of her hard work," Covington said. "You just knew it was coming. The one piece that was missing from this team was replacing Kelsey. We had to have somebody to pick up that slack. We knew she was capable. She doesn't get down when bad things happen, and I think that really fits in nicely with this team. We are all built that way. Just keep working. Everything happens for a reason. Learn from it and move on."
In the second half, Thompson was dominant when Murrah tried to rally.
"Tabreea (Gandy) and Jariyah (Covington) have been with us for a long time," Williams said. "They were the backbone for this team. When Kirsten stepped into her role and really developed, it made us a different type team. She transformed us into something special."
On this night, she made them a state champion.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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