The Lady Tigers have done it again

I think we all need to take a step back and applaud what the Hattiesburg Lady Tigers and head coach Caronica Jackson have done this season. She’s taken a young and inexperienced team and has brought them back to Jackson for the state quarterfinals.

Friday’s game with Neshoba Central marks the third straight trip to Jackson for Hattiesburg, and from my perspective, coach Jackson and her Lady Tigers don’t get enough credit for their accomplishments. Although, I’ve only been here for about a year and a half and I only have last season’s run to the 5A Semifinals to go off of.

Maybe it’s just expected every year. I’m not sure.

If the front of their jersey didn’t read “Lady Tigers” or “Hattiesburg,” then I’d be surprised how far this team has gone so far. But, since it is the same purple, gold and white jersey, and Jackson is standing at the bench, it doesn’t matter how much talent Hattiesburg lost the year before. The players, coaches, fans and myself expect a trip to Jackson every season.

When I walked into coach Jackson’s office in November, one of the first things I asked was if she expected another trip to the quarters this season. Let’s just say she didn’t look too confident, but she added this year’s team would be a work in progress and they could make a run if they won their district.

She had her concerns, that’s for sure.

“I anticipate having to start a ninth-grader this year, so yeah, we’re extremely young with not a whole lot of varsity experience,” Jackson said in November. “I have one starter returning – point guard Terralyn Ulmer. She’s the only one who’s seen major varsity minutes. Not than that, everybody is expected to fill new roles this year, literally everybody, with the exception of Terralyn.”

However, Jackson was wrong when she said that. Now, she used the word “anticipate” about starting one freshman, but the Lady Tigers now play two freshmen in their rotation. 

 Ulmer has been a great leader for the team, but freshmen Chelsea Ulmer and Meliya Grayson have provided scoring options. Jackson knew Chelsea Ulmer was going to be a key player, but the lack of height has pushed Grayson into a bigger role on the team.

In fact, she didn’t see any action until a late December game. Now she’s third on the team with 8.6 points per game, including a 13-point performance against Picayune in the district championship.

What has helped Hattiesburg this season was its district opponents. There isn’t anyway around saying it. The Region 7-5A isn’t very good. The Lady Tigers won the region with a 14-14 overall record, but the 6-0 district mark is the only thing that counts. The only team that was above .500 overall was Pearl River Central, and the Lady Blue Devils were last in the standings with a 1-5 record.

Jackson had a feeling the season would shake out like that, and she didn’t mind taking lumps against better teams. She knew those loses would help her team in the long run, and they just had to get through the district to set themselves up nicely in the playoffs.

Everything has worked out for Jackson and the Lady Tigers. Now let’s see if they can continue this run Friday night at 5:30 p.m.

Follow Camal on Twitter via @PineBeltSPORTS or email him: camal@PineBeltSPORTS.com