STARKVILLE -- Playing as a team is a goal every athlete and coach will list at some point of the season. And as cliché and obvious as the concept might seem, a team won't get far with individual play. Starkville High School volleyball coach Lauren Love has been drilling that concept to her squad since she took over last season. Communication is vital for solid team play, but the spirit of playing for one another can help overcome any deficiencies or lack of experience.
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State's soccer team has been re-tooling its attack for the past three seasons, and coach Neil Macdonald believes the firepower issues are a thing of the past. Last year's squad took a step toward contending in conference play, posting a 9-8-2 record and earning draws against ranked sides Florida and South Carolina.
Krisi Boren saw the progress last season. After making it to the Division II state title game in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools in 2008, Boren watched as her team adjusted to playing against Division I competition in '09. The Lady Patriots experienced their share of growing pains, going 6-7 and finishing fourth in their district.
Imagine having to toil in obscurity. It wouldn't matter if you had the fastest feet, the stickiest hands, or the steadiest demeanor. The only ones your talents would delight would be family and friends and, possibly, a lucky fan who happened by the stadium where you played.
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State began football practice Tuesday with two split-squad sessions and plenty of eyes on the team's newcomers. In the first of three practices open to the public, Mississippi State newcomers took the field for the first time this fall in a format head coach Dan Mullen hoped would acclimate the freshman/transfer class to practice routines.
Michael Bradley isn't alone. Like most of his peers, the New Hope High School football coach was elated to start another season. Bradley has an extra bounce in his step because the Trojans are coming off an 11-win season in 2009 and have a team that has the potential to be even more successful this year. But as eager as Bradley is to get this season started, he wasn't very happy about when his team had to begin its preseason workouts.
Chloe Tapley is used to taking the initiative. As a pitcher, Tapley is one of the area's most proficient strikeout artists. At the plate, where she admits she doesn't feel she is as productive, Tapley has learned to slap or to get on base to help her team any way she can.
WEST POINT -- Sometimes it is as easy as sling it or chunk it. Julianne Jackson admits she doesn't have an array of pitches, but Monday she showed a simple approach is extremely effective.
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State football players opened practice this morning with the first of two practices to begin the 2010 season. The Bulldogs, coming off a 5-7 season, began fall camp Monday with 105 players reporting to the first team meeting.
What a way to kick off the season. Coming off a victory Friday against Starkville Academy, the Hebron Christian fast-pitch softball team knew Saturday could be a long day at the Winona Christian tournament. The team's stay nearly lasted as long as it expected. After losing their first game in their second game at the double-elimination tournament, the Lady Eagles battled back to win their next three games before eing eliminated with a 5-1 loss to Canton Academy.
Expectations can be difficult for student-athletes and parents to handle. As another high school sports scene begins its first official full week today, all teams still have an optimistic glow about them. Most Mississippi Association of Independent Schools fast-pitch softball teams began their seasons Friday and Saturday, while some MAIS football teams -- including Starkville Academy -- will scrimmages later this week.
Jessica Dickens hopes the work the Starkville Academy fast-pitch softball team put in in the offseason will pay dividends this season. If Saturday is any indication, the Lady Volunteers should be just fine. Coming off a loss to Hebron Christian on Friday, Starkville Academy defeated Heritage Academy 19-2 in five innings and Central Academy 16-13 before losing 8-3 to Oak Hill Academy in its third and final game at the Heritage Academy tournament at Propst Park.
Mamie Allen was ready. The Oak Hill Academy pitcher had talked with coach Marion Bratton, so she knew she likely would start in the circle Saturday for the team's first two games of the Heritage Academy tournament at Propst Park. The sophomore right-hander didn't mind she would have to shoulder such a load in 90-plus degree heat.
STARKVILLE -- Starkville High School's first fall scrimmage during head coach Jamie Mitchell's tenure had a little bit of everything Saturday morning. But the multitude of pre-snap penalties and fumbled snaps were potentially offset by a string of long plays from sophomore skilled players. The long grind of opening week culminated with an intrasquad scrimmage in front of an estimated crowd of 100 Yellow Jacket fans.
WEST POINT -- Depth was a problem for Oak Hill Academy fast-pitch softball coach Marion Bratton in 2009. Season-ending injuries to Paige Dawkins and Mary Helon Hays left the Lady Raiders without two starters and created openings for younger players. Without two key contributors on offense, Bratton's team had little margin for error and was forced to live with the growing pains associated with an inexperienced squad.
Cass Tapley hopes experience equals urgency this season. A year ago, the Hebron Christian fast-pitch softball coach could only scratch his head and wonder about his team. The Lady Eagles sputtered through the first part of the season and seldom resembled the team Tapley knew it could be.
Bud Lowe will play a numbers game this season. The hope for Lowe, who is in his first season as Heritage Academy fast-pitch softball coach, is that those numbers -- how many players he has on his team and how many victories the squad gets -- will only get bigger.
STARKVILLE -- The No. 21, worn by the late Keffer McGee, will remain a symbol of Mississippi State football history as the only unofficial retired jersey.
PITTSBURGH -- Paul Maholm is like any major leaguer who wants to play for a winner. But for the southpaw of the Pittsburgh Pirates, that means being patient. Maholm, who pitched at Mississippi State from 2001-03, is in his sixth season with the Pirates and he has yet to play on a winning team. Pittsburgh hasn't had a winning season since the 1992 team made the playoffs, and Maholm is biding his time until the organization can reverse its fortunes.
Walt Simmons has plenty of stories to tell. Whether it has been at Oak Hill Academy in West Point or at the University of West Alabama in Livingston, Ala., Simmons has left his mark as a standout athlete. He also has learned more than his share of valuable lessons from peers who were more talented and more experienced. Now working as a career coach at Gadsden State Community College, Simmons' job is to help high school and college students figure out what direction they want to take their lives and the best way to realize their goals.
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