STARKVILLE -- With nine seniors, it's easy to hang hopes on your most experienced players. But when that one third of your team's key players piloted the ship to a four-win season a year ago, you're pinning even more hope on that group taking a bigger step toward title-winning form.
Friday night is showtime for the West Lowndes High School football team. At some point this season, coach Bobby Berry hopes the Panthers' play graduates to capital letter status. For now, though, the veteran coach would like to see his players back up all of their talk on the field. It's not that West Lowndes has been burning the phone lines with fabulous boasts. Berry is just eager to see his players prove to him their confidence -- and potential -- is real.
Leroy Gregg has coached high school football teams that have gone through a season without any injuries. Gregg hopes he has that same good fortune this season. With only 17 players on his roster, the third-year Oak Hill Academy coach knows the 2010 campaign will be challenging. After two solid showings in the preseason, Gregg and the Raiders will make their debut at 7 p.m. Friday when they play host to Heritage Academy.
In a unique twist Thursday night, Dwight Bowling will be a visitor in his hometown. Bowling faces the task of coaching a visiting team in his hometown of Smithville when he leads the Sulligent Blue Devils against the Smithville Seminoles. Bowling embarks on his fifth season as Sulligent's coach and will roam visitor's sideline at Smithville for the first time after being on the other side of the field for 28 years as the coach of the Seminoles.
STARKVILLE -- Julianne Jackson has had a lot of responsibility for the Starkville Academy softball team this season. She's handled the bulk of the pitching duties for the first time in her career and spent numerous hours trying to perfect a swing that hadn't previously utilized her power. Fifteen games into the season, she's the Lady Vols' No. 1 option in the circle and has become an effective pull-hitter and is currently the team's cleanup batter.
Ja'Bria Jones twisted her body to make a play. Playing two steps off the net, the middle blocker reached tentatively with her left hand in an effort to keep the ball alive. Jones did more than that. With a flick of her arm, the Columbus High School freshman sealed the deal with one final kill and helped her team defeat West Lowndes 3-2.
A year ago, South Lamar High School volleyball coach Karen Holsonback felt fortunate that her team didn't lose a match to rival Lamar County. Holsonback's team will attempt to continue its success against its rival Thursday when South Lamar hosts Lamar County in the first match of the season for both teams.
Anna McCrary thought her coach was crazy. Sure, she slugged a pitch to the bottom of the fence for an easy extra-base hit, but McCrary didn't think she was quick enough to make it home for an inside-the-park home run. Tabitha Beard thought differently.
STARKVILLE -- The New Hope High School football team showed last season it can win close games. The Trojans won rain-slogged efforts at Saltillo and at Clarksdale and equally tight games against Hernando and Indianola Gentry en route to a second-place finish in Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A, Region 1. Things were even better in the playoffs.
STARKVILLE -- New year, same old story for the West Point High School football team. Led by a 77-yard rushing effort from senior quarterback Justin Cox, West Point grinded it out for 251 yards Saturday en route t a 35-0 victory against Itawamba Agricultural High at the Fall Football Jamboree at Mississippi State's Davis Wade Stadium. The rushing total was even more impressive considering the Green Wave, the defending Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state champion, did in only two quarters of varsity action. Eight players had a chance to tote the ball, led by Cox and LaKenderic Thomas, who added 55 yards.
STARKVILLE -- Out of all the teams at the New Hope Fall jamboree, Starkville High School left the biggest stamp on Scott Field. Against three top offensive linemen recruits on a team that went 8-4 last season, the Yellow Jackets looked the like the polished, veteran team by beating Callaway 21-0 on Saturday. As for that vaunted Callaway offensive line? Just 31 rushing yards to show at the end of the two-quarter game.
STARKVILLE -- Jamie Mitchell's Starkville High School football team has gotten mentally and physically tougher, but he will find out just how much progress his squad has made when it faces Jackson Callaway on Saturday at the New Hope High jamboree at Mississippi State's Davis Wade Stadium.
STARKVILLE -- The Robert Gardner era at Starkville Academy kicked off Thursday with an 11-0 rout of Washington School. The first-year Lady Volunteers' coach watched his side score seven goals in the first half and hold Washington to just one shot on goal in its season opener at the Starkville Sportsplex.
MERIDIAN -- Taylor Baudoin had three goals and an assist Thursday to lead the Immanuel Christian girls soccer team to a 6-1 victory against Russell Christian in its season opener.
MACON -- The Central Academy fast-pitch softball team scored two runs in the first inning and three more in the second Tuesday en route to a 6-0 victory against Oak Hill Academy. Paige Buchanan went the distance in the pitching circle and was the winning pitcher for Central. The leading hitters for Central Academy were Megan Banks with a double and single, Kendall Taylor with a double, and Blake Rigdon with a single.
There is something to be said for a high school football team playing host to a 10-team jamboree at its school. It's another thing when that team gets a chance to play host to the event at Mississippi State's Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field.
CALEDONIA -- Marlana Dolan has to be ready for anything. As a setter, she would love to receive perfect passes so she has time to set up and to pick her hitters to help them deliver kills for the Caledonia High School volleyball team. But any setter knows that is a dream that is rarely realized.
STEENS -- The prospect of not having any seniors would scare some coaches and players. But Ray Campbell and his Immanuel Christian girls soccer team are looking forward to the challenge of building with youth.
Rachel Hollivay already is one of the best girls basketball players in the Class of 2012. Ranked in the top 10 by nearly every national recruiting service, the Heritage Academy junior has attracted interest from coaches from all over the country. But Hollivay did something last week that made all of the scouts and coaches take notice.
STARKVILLE -- Starkville Academy and Central Academy posted the only victories Saturday by local teams at the Starkville Academy tournament at the Mississippi State Recreation Complex. Oak Hill and Heritage Academy lost both of their games in the tournament. Starkville Academy opened the day with a 6-4 victory against Central Academy, but it lost its next two games to Leake Academy (2-1) and to Pillow Academy and was ousted from the double-elimination event.
2. Harris, Heritage Academy will count on seniors to lead way HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. Howland likes MSU's non-conference schedule COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Central Academy hopes to contend for state title HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. Walters column: Prep football season coming closer LOCAL COLUMNS