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Lady Wolves packing for national tourney

Practice and pack some more.

The Co-Lin Lady Wolves are busy packing for the NJCAA NationalWomen’s Basketball Tournament in Salina, Kan. They’ll depart earlySunday morning and make a long, 18-hour bus ride to the flat land,where it feels good to see a tree.

Speaking of trees, the 16-team field will feature several youngwomen deserving of the so-called tree status. They are 6-foot-5 andtaller. Most of them can run like deer, too.

Their last names betray their roots. There are Estabans fromSouth America, Goulinbechts from Germany, Baronoviches from Poland,Zumbowies from Africa and Rubelzacs from Russia. They can shoot thelights out and a few of the big ones can dunk, too.

Co-Lin women’s head coach Gwyn Young is a veteran of sixnational tournaments. Relying mainly on homegrown talent fromMississippi and Louisiana, Young has coached his team to fourth,sixth and seventh place finishes in the nationals. They finishedseventh last season, winning three straight games after losing theopener.

Young, in his 34th year at the helm, has compiled an overallrecord of 773 wins and 224 losses. That makes him the secondwinningest active coach in women’s basketball.

Naturally, teams have to be lucky and good in the nationals. Thebest players pick it up a notch. Young said teams have to play hardand play with confidence.

“You can’t be up tight,” said Young. “You have to be lucky andget a good draw. You can’t go out there playing scared.”

Rebounding from that opening round loss last season, Young sawhis team complete their season on a winning note. They recorded a31-2 worksheet. Young admitted that it was the first time for himto end a basketball season with a victory.

National memories. Co-Lin was fourth with post player DebraBarnes at Tyler Texas, in 1989. Barnes had her glasses knocked offher face several times but that didn’t keep her from being a beaston the backboards.

The Lady Wolves finished sixth with standout guard NikkiWilliams in 2007. Rachel Vigers and Latoria Holder were the mainstars for Co-Lin last season.

Who will be the Co-Lin leaders next week? Stay tuned.

Three of Co-Lin’s sophomores were members of last season’sstandout team that finished 31-2. Kristen Newsome of Jackson(Forest Hill) and Paige Webster were key reserves and BrandiSimmons was starting at the post position.

Newsome shared her memories. “For one, it’s very interesting.It’s very intense. You get to meet new teams. It was fun to play inthe snow.”

Newsome and her teammates were treated to a few snowfalls duringtheir week in Kansas. In fact, the white stuff followed them allthe way to Dallas on the journey home.

Asked about this year’s team, Newsome said Co-Lin overcameadversity during the early going. Simmons was the only returningstarter.

“For me personally, I thought we weren’t going to make it,” saidNewsome. “People were quitting and there were different attitudeson the team.”

However, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Newsome said,”Once the season began, we started coming together as a team. Wewere more of a defensive team last year. This year, everybody canscore. We just find a way to win.”

Webster, a Franklin County product, said she enjoyed last year’stournament. “It was fun because we had never went that far before.We played a lot of people from different places. We played hard.You have to play your best and have fun while you’re at it.”

Webster also expressed her doubts early in the campaign.

“We weren’t focused at first. We didn’t do well in practice. Wedidn’t have the defense like last year. We had some (team)meetings,” and got things straight.

Simmons, a southpaw from Jackson (Murrah) with a silky shootingtouch, said she has been sharing her experiences with team members.”I tell them how fun it is. You go out there and show the collegecoaches. You have to play hard.”

For sure, the national tourney is a recruiting Mecca for seniorcollege coaches seeking immediate help. Last spring, Vigers signedwith Southern Miss and Holder joined Southeastern Louisiana.Teammate Shrareka Hunt signed with Southern University.

Simmons said the latest Co-Lin edition could finish higher thanseventh. “We are more focused. We have a better shot at goingfarther.”

When asked to compare this year’s team to last season, Simmonssaid, “The basic difference is the skills. We were more of adefensive team last year. This time we have more people who canscore. Our defense is improving. We have people who are going tocome off the bench and score for us.”

How about the officiating?

“We are going to have to be tough with the ball,” said Simmons.”The other team will try to take it away from you. They (officials)won’t call nothing.”

That statement reminds me of an NJCAA National Tournament heldat Tyler, Texas, a few years ago. A perplexed coach was frustratedby the lack of calls.

“I feel like I just landed on Mars,” said the losing coach. “Theofficials won’t call anything. They just let them play.”

For sure, only the strong and the quick survive. Sounds like ashootout at the OK Corral.

Brookhaven Academy all-stars Anna Katelyn Mangold and SidneyChaffin helped their MAIS South Class AA-AAA All-Star BasketballTeams to victory last Saturday at Mississippi College.

The AA-AAA South girls won by 5 points. BA center Anna KatelynMangold had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the South. The SouthAA-AAA boys won 102-101 in overtime as BA’s Sidney Chaffin scored 8points.

MVP honors went to the South’s Brianna May of East Rankin andthe North’s Jenny Wilbanks of Leake Academy

In boys AA-AAA action, the South’s Thomas Fletcher from CentralPrivate and the North’s big center, Justin Malone, fromMadison-Ridgeland, earned MVP honors.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mailsports@dailyleader.com