By Bryan Davis
Teams who have played the Hebron Christian Lady Eagles, the Oak Hill Academy Lady Raiders and the West Point Lady Green Wave already know how hard it is to beat these Clay County girls.
Over the next week, the rest of the state is about to find out the same thing, as Hebron and Oak Hill have already advanced to the second round of the playoffs, after sweeping their respective district tournaments.
West Point began entered into their first playoff game last night, against the Saltillo girls.
Overall, the Lady Wave finished the season at 16-4, Hebron completed the regular season at 20-3, and Oak Hill had a 20-8 record going into the playoffs.
Combined, the three teams were 20-2 in district play. Oak Hill added two more district wins at last weekend’s tournament, as did the Hebron girls who went 10-0 to win their district.
In a county known for its football dominance, these three teams are giving West Point a predominant place on the map as one of the most feared places to play girls basketball.
“You always want to build that in your program, when you’re thinking about having a tradition,”said West Point head coach Jemmye Ann Helms. “Since I’ve come here, the girls have worked hard, and they’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do.”
Helms’ Lady Wave just completed a season that included a 13-game winning streak and a 4-2 district record, for second place.
“It used to be that people looked at West Point for football,” Helms said. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve made the playoffs, and I hope that continues.”
The Oak Hill Lady Raiders are currently enjoying a bye in the North State Tournament. They will play the winner of the Hillcrest vs. North Delta game. The Lady Raiders flew past Winston and Manchester at the district tournament, both teams who were already defeated twice during the regular season by Oak Hill.
“I’m blessed with some really smart kids, who can do a lot of different stuff,” Hughey said. “Our philosophy this year has been to play smart and play hard.”
The girls have played hard, earning a ranking in most of the state’s polls, including a start to the week at No. 5 in the Clarion Ledger’s poll.
“Anytime this area of the state gets recognition for girls basketball, I’m glad,” said Hughey. “A lot of the girls don’t get as much recognition as the boys.”
The Hebron girls cruised to wins over Calhoun and Kemper last weekend, earning their No.1 spot at the Central State Tournament in Winona.
“I think the community is proud of what we’ve done, and what the other schools have done also,” Helms said. “I’ve always known Oak Hill to have very competitive girls. Since Hebron has started, their girls have always been competitive. To add them to our girls, it says a lot about the female athletes in the county.”
It may seem like a fluke that all three teams are enjoying this tremendous success in 2010-2011, but make no mistake about it. There is a reason why these girls are all coming into their own together.
Helms has spent her entire time at West Point, working with her other coaches to build this program into a consistent one. The same goes for Hebron’s Greg Watkins and Oak Hill’s Hughey.
While Oak Hill has enjoyed a rich basketball tradition for a number of years, Hughey and Helms agree that the key to the recent varsity success has been the development of these players at an early age.
“Beverly Jackson does a great job for us with our seventh, eighth and ninth grade girls,” Helms said. “She has worked hard to get those junior high kids fundamentally sound and interested and excited in basketball. The junior high hill is really huge in building a program.”
Hughey stresses fundamentals to his junior high girls, who will be the starters for what their coach hopes will be several more years of success.
“I think junior high is so important,” Hughey said. “Im able to get the fundamentals down at the junior high level. We teach them the basics, so that they can know our system.”
This year, the junior high girls won the district tournament at Carroll Academy.
“The junior high girls are successful, so they learn how to win too,” Hughey said.
These coaches also know that part of being a threat is having a loud house when they are at home.
The home field advantage adds more nervousness to visiting girls who are already timid about facing any of the Clay County girls.
Earlier this season, Leake Academy’s leading scorer, Jenny Wilbanks was asked which gym she dreaded playing in the most. Her response was Oak Hill Academy.
“That’s pretty cool,” Hughey said. “That’s a compliment to our players and student body.”
That should play well in 2012, as Hughey announced this week that Oak Hill was drawn out of a hat to host the district tournament next February.
“We are really excited about February 2012,” Hughey said. “We will be hosting district at the high school level.”
This week, the West Point basketball program is hosting the district tournament, featuring New Hope, Oxford and Saltillo. With this kind of exposure, the Clay County girls should be force to be feared for a long time to come.