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Lady Bears in state tourney tonight

After a 5-year dry spell, the West Lincoln Lady Bears arereturning to the Big House, a.k.a. Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.The MHSAA State Tournament draws teams from all corners of theMagnolia State, and West Lincoln is making its first statetournament appearance since 1999.

The Lady Bears play Houlka tonight at 6:30. Also entered in theClass 1A girls bracket are North Mississippi champion West Lowndes,East Oktibbeha, Sebastopol and South Mississippi championMcAdams.

Sebastopol plays East Oktibbeha at 1 p.m. Thursday in anotheropening round game. McAdams plays the Houlka-West Lincoln winnerMarch 9 and West Lowndes plays the Sebastopol-East Oktibbeha winnerMarch 10 in the semifinals. The championship game is March 13 at 1p.m.

This is West Lincoln’s 10th state tournament appearance. TheLady Bears captured the state and overall titles in 1957.

This is the first state tournament appearance for West Lincolncoach Lane Young.

In an attempt to prepare his Lady Bears for the spaciousconfines of the coliseum, Young took his team to Copiah-LincolnCommunity College’s Mullen Gymnasium for a practice session Monday.”We went to Co-Lin to get on that floor and see a differentlook.”

Young said Houlka has two strong post players. “They will try towork the ball inside. They also play 10 or 11 players.”

Keona Blanchard and Paige Williamson direct the Lady Wildcatswho are coached by Guy McDonald.

Houlka (27-10) lost to West Lowndes 56-54 last Saturday night inthe North Mississippi championship game. In the semifinals, Houlkadefeated East Oktibbeha 66-51.

West Lincoln has a promising young team with just two seniors in5-7 guard Lyndsay Franklin and 5-7 forward Kayla Shaw. West Lincolnwon its first division title in 20 years. The Lady Bears also wonthe division tournament at Natchez Cathedral and finished third inthe South Mississippi playoffs at Scott Central, earning a statetournament bid.

Junior starters for West Lincoln are 5-9 post Alicia Kennedy and5-8 forward Monica Price. Top reserves are 5-7 guard Lauren Smithand 5-8 forward Christine Hunt.

Sophomore starters are 5-8 point guard Erica Shaw and 5-7forward Brittnee Smith.

Erica Shaw leads the team in scoring with 11 points per game.Kennedy averages 10 ppg, Price 5 ppg, and Brittnee Smith 5 ppg.Kennedy, Price and Shaw usually lead the rebounding effort.

“Our scoring is balanced,” said Young. “Our bench has done agood job all year.”

The Lady Bears are 25-5 on the season. They finished third inthe South Mississippi playoffs, beating South Leake 55-52 in lastSaturday night’s consolation game as Erica Shaw scored 12 pointsand Kennedy 10. Freshman Savannah Palomarez grabbed 8 rebounds andLauren Smith 6.

“That may have been the best game we played all year,” saidYoung who is in his second year at West Lincoln. “We wanted it morethan the other team at the end.”

Young said his team needs a similar performance against Houlka.”All the teams (at state) are good. You have to play well everygame.”