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Sunday, January 25, 2015

MHEA Eagles Flying High Again

image and article from Commercial Appeal



The Memphis Home Education Association girls basketball team is hoping the sixth time will be the charm.

Coach Tracy Rice's Eagles are in the midst of another terrific campaign. They've notched quality wins against teams like Munford, Briarcrest, Whitehaven, Harding, White Station, Arlington and Central and head into Tuesday's game against St. Benedict with a 24-4 record and a No. 4 ranking in The Commercial Appeal's Dandy Dozen.

More impressive is that fact that the vast majority of those victories have come on the road; as a home-school team the Eagles don't technically have a home court. They have managed two "home" games, playing at St. Luke's United Methodist and Mullins United Methodist.

Despite all those victories, it was MHEA's play in a pair of losses over the holidays that gives them hope that this can be the year that they finally capture the Home School National Championship after a frustrating run of five -- yes five -- consecutive runner-up finishes.

MHEA went toe-to-toe with two mid-state powerhouses over the break, losing by 10 against defending AAA champ and national No. 4 Murfreesboro Blackman on Dec. 29 before falling by four against Murfreesboro Riverdale the next day.

As Eagles guard Bailey Wilkes told The Commercial Appeal earlier this month, those games will give them a ton of confidence against home-school competition, which -- for the most part -- won't be as strong as Blackman and Riverdale.

Another check-mark in the Eagles' column is their experience; Wilkes -- who started at point guard as a seventh-grader -- and Ole Miss signee and fellow senior Torri Lewis are the John Stockton and Karl Malone of high school hoops, in terms of games played together. Sharpshooter Jamie Crum completes the big three, while Memphis Nighthawks transfer Samantha Price is also capable of putting up big numbers.

Navigating the national tournament field certainly won't be easy; the defending champion Lubbock (Texas) Titans are strong once again and the rest of the top 10 teams are talented too. But when the competition begins March 9 in Springfield, Mo., the Hoop City contingent will be the one to beat.

Trivia: MHEA senior Torri Lewis has signed to play at Ole Miss. How many other area prospects are currently on the Lady Rebels' roster?

One for the future: One day -- maybe in the not-too-distant future -- the members of the Oliver Branch girls basketball team will get to tell people, "I played ball with Myah Taylor."

Taylor, OB's sophomore guard, is one of the best girls prospects to come through the area in recent years. So far this season, she's averaging 17.7 points, 8 assists and 4.4 steals per game while leading the Quistors to a 21-1 record and the top spot in the Mississippi rankings.

She was lights-out in Olive Branch's 50-40 victory over rival Horn Lake last Friday, scoring 18 points and taking over with key buckets and assists down the stretch. Coaches from a host of schools -- including Memphis, Ole Miss, Cincinnati, Auburn, Mississippi State and Texas State among others -- were in attendance and had to have been impressed by Taylor's poise, decision-making, slick passing and ability to blow past defenders and get to the rim seemingly any time she wanted. Auburn certainly took noticed; they offered her following the game.

At 5-7, the only thing Taylor is lacking right now is some physical strength. But that will come with age and continued work with noted area trainer Scottie Mason. Girls basketball in Mississippi -- and DeSoto County in particular -- is strong and Taylor's stock likely will only rise over the next two seasons.

Top Tigers: Year in and year out, Manassas coach Gerald Harris does one of the best coaching jobs in the city. In his 14 seasons, he's taken the Tigers to the state tournament three times, winning the Class A title in 2009 while finishing runner-up in 2008.

Harris might just be doing his best coaching job this year.

Heading into the weekend, Manassas is 15-4 and in a dogfight with Craigmont and Sheffield for the lead in 16-AA (each team has one league loss). And the Tigers are doing it despite losing a whopping 11 seniors from last year's team that lost in the quarterfinals of the AA state tournament.

Typically for Manassas, the Tigers are winning because everyone is doing his job. Marcus Nesby has had a breakout senior season, averaging 20.2 points per game with a 42-point performance to his credit. But he's the only double-figure scorer.

Damien Fleming, a 6-6 junior, and sophomores Rameek Wooten (5-11) and Joshua Conrad (6-4) have all been solid all season and the Tigers can go pretty deep with their bench. When points can come from just about anywhere, it makes a team hard to beat and is one of the reasons why the Tigers are right in the mix to make the AA County Championship game on Feb. 7.

And if they do, it could be a Harris family affair. Gerald's wife Paula coaches the Manassas girls team, which knocked off Raleigh-Egypt on Tuesday to create a logjam atop the league standings. Things will sort themselves out over the next couple of weeks but Manassas will definitely have a huge say.

Middle school spotlight: Fans can see the high school stars of tomorrow at the SCIAA Middle School championships, which begin Friday with first-round tournament games at various sites. On Saturday, Booker T. Washington Middle will host games for Small Area 1, Chickasaw for Small Area 2 and Kingsbury for Small Area 3. Germantown Middle will host games in Large Areas 1, 2 and 3 also on Saturday.
The semifinals and championships in each division take place Tuesday and Wednesday at Ridgeway Middle. To see the brackets, visit http://sciaa.digitalsports.com/middle-school-sports-information/middle-school-basketball/city-championship-2.

Trivia answer: The Lady Rebels currently have three players from the Shelby/DeSoto area: freshmen Kelsey Briggs (Overton), Kiara Golden (Center Hill) and A'Queen Hayes (Horn Lake).

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