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Byrd, Black share MVP honor

Swayze Black and Nikki Byrd have been known as the Twin Towersduring their varsity basketball careers with the Brookhaven LadyPanthers. Most importantly, they have been instrumental in leadingthe Lady Panthers to the Class 4A State Tournament 3 straightseasons.

Directed by Black and Byrd, the Lady Panthers made anotherstrong run in the state playoffs. They reached the state semifinalsbefore losing in overtime to unbeaten powerhouse Indianola Gentryfor a third consecutive year.

Byrd and Black are recognized as The DAILY LEADER’s Co-PlayersOf The Year on the 2008 All-Lincoln County Girls Basketball Team.This is their second straight year to be selected Co-Most ValuablePlayers and Miss Basketball.

The DL’s dream team also includes Betsy Lynch and Kellie Sniderof Brookhaven Academy, Shannon Chester and Haley Sones of LoydStar, Talashia Fells of West Lincoln and Darcy Miller of BogueChitto. The team was selected by members of the DL sports staff,with input provided by area coaches.

Black, 6-foot-3, and Byrd, 6-2; both have bright futures aheadof them at Southeastern Conference schools. Black has signed ascholarship with LSU and Byrd has signed with Ole Miss.

“Both girls improved this season,” was the observation providedby BHS head coach Freda Craft. “Swayze became more comfortableinside. She was our leader in assists and a total player.”

With the loss of 3 starting guards to graduation after the 2007season, Craft counted on Byrd and Black for more ball-handlingresponsibilities. They both were relied on to handle the full-courtpressure applied by opposing teams.

“Nikki improved her outside game and her ball-handling skillsgot better,” said Craft. “She developed more court awareness.”

They have similar statistics. Byrd averaged 16.7 points and 10rebounds per game. She also averaged 3 assists per game.

By comparison, Black averaged 16.6 ppg and 9.6 rebounds. She had3.8 assists per game and 1.2 steals.

They were both above average in field goal percentage as Blackhit 62.7 percent of her shots and Byrd nailed 60 percent. They bothplayed in last month’s Mississippi/Alabama All-Star BasketballClassic. They also earned all-state honors.

They exchanged compliments during the MVP photo session.

“Nikki is a smart player,” said Black. “She’s a good team playerand a good leader.”

Byrd reciprocated. “Swayze is a good leader. She makes gooddecisions.”

The both played exceptionally well in the rematch with Gentry.Black scored 30 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. Byrd sat out 13.5minutes of the game with foul trouble but still managed 23 pointsand 6 rebounds.

Asked about their most talented opponent, Black recognizedGentry’s sensational sophomore guard Brizannai Washington whoscored 32 points in the overtime victory.

Both girls said they enjoyed playing for Coach Craft.

“Coach Craft taught me a lot of discipline,” said Byrd. “Shepushed us a lot in practice.”

Swayze shared her teammate’s feelings. “I liked playing forCoach Craft. I will miss her.”

Byrd said Gentry post player Laneisha Jennie impressed her.”Jennie’s pressure on defense was strong.”

Looking to the future, Black and Byrd will be taking summerclasses at their respective colleges in Baton Rouge and Oxford.Black wants to pursue a career in business. Byrd said she isconsidering a career in computer engineering.

Darcy Miller, a 5-5 freshman guard, was acatalyst for Bogue Chitto’s Lady ‘Cats in a major rebuildingseason. She averaged 12.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 3.1steals per game as Coach Christi Terrell’s team posted a 17-8record with no seniors on the squad. They were runners-up in theDivision 8-1A Tournament.

“Darcy Miller is an aggressive player,” said Coach Terrell. “Asa freshman she made a great effort. She’s very competitive and verycoachable.”

“She’s definitely our best offensive player on the team,”Terrell continued. “She wants the ball in her hands if somethinghas to be done.”

Shannon Chester, a 5-8 junior guard, averaged13.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.5 steals and 5.1 assists per game asLoyd Star’s Lady Hornets won the Division 6-2A Tournamentchampionship. They posted a 23-6 record and advanced to the stateplayoffs.

“Shannon is a leader, not only on the basketball court but oncampus,” said Loyd Star coach Billy Vaughn. “She plays point guardout of necessity. She played different positions, from center toforward, as we needed her this season.”

“She has a lot of quickness and she is a very good defender,”said Vaughn. “She’s a very good ball-handler and she canscore.”

Haley Sones, a 5-11 junior center, averaged12.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game. She can shootaccurately from 10-15 feet.

“Haley loves the game,” said Coach Vaughn. “She’s a hard worker.Whenever she is focused, she can take over a game on offense anddefense.”

“She’s an offensive threat and she improved the most on defense.She’s a rebounder and a shot blocker.”

Betsy Lynch, a 5-5 senior guard, averaged 13.5points, 4 assists, 4 steals and 3 rebounds per game for Coach BarryGray’s Lady Cougars. They won the District 4-AA and South StateTournament championship. They were 32-6 overall, finishing third inthe Class AA State Tournament at Grenada Kirk Academy and advancingto the MPSA Overall Tournament.

Lynch, recognized as a determined warrior, had to cope with 3ACL surgeries during her varsity career. Two weeks before the endof the regular season, Lynch suffered a fracture in her rightshooting hand. She made a remarkable recovery and increased herscoring average during the playoffs.

“Betsy is fast and she can do so many things for us,” said Gray.”She’s tough and courageous. Her will carried this team.”

Kelli Snider, a 5-7 senior forward, averaged12.5 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals per game as theLady Cougars won District 4-AA and South State championships,placing third in the state tourney. She had several 20-point gamesagainst AAA opponents.

“Kelli’s 3 point shooting was her strength,” said Coach Gray.”Her rebounding and toughness increased her senior year. She hadthe ability to finish plays.”

Talashia Fells, a 5-11 senior center, averaged10.8 points, 9.1 rebounds per game for Coach Lane Young’s WestLincoln Lady Bears as they won the Division 8-1A Tournament andfinished 21-9.

Fells sat out her junior year.

“Talashia came in and did everything I asked her to do,” saidCoach Young. “Everybody accepted her. She did a good job being aleader on the team.

“She rebounded well for us and she could guard the other postplayers.”