Starkville High School football coach Jamie Mitchell, the Starkville Daily News All-Area Coach of the Year, led the Yellowjackets to the Class 5A State championship last season. That accomplishment was chosen as the top local sports story of 2012 by the Starkville Daily News sports staff. (Photos by Kim Murrell, SDN)
There were two words that came up quite frequently on the local sports front in 2012 - state championship.
Starkville High School football closed the year on a high note by winning the Class 5A State championship. That accomplishment was chosen as the top area sports story of 2012 by the Starkville Daily News staff.
It wasn't a great start for the Yellowjackets as they struggled to a 1-3 record in the non-conference part of the schedule.
After a tough 47-22 loss to the West Point Green Wave at home, Starkville did not lose again.
The Jackets swept through the Class 5A, Region 2 slate and won four playoff games to cap an 11-game winning streak with a state title.
Starkville was able to return to Jackson for the second-straight season. Unlike 2011 when the Jackets lost to Picayune, they defeated Pascagoula 28-11 to be crowned the best in Class 5A.
"Last year, we came in here looking to win the game, but we came up a little bit short," SHS running back Preston Baker said. "It was motivation. We were nervous because we were here last year. We were just here to win it. It's a great feeling. There's nothing like it."
It was the fifth State championship in school history for the Jackets. They have made nine title appearances.
"This is kind of where Starkville is supposed to be," SHS coach Jamie Mitchell said. "This is where we belong. We want a dynasty here so bad. We just have to continue to build."
The Starkville Academy Lady Volunteers also got to brag about being State championships on the basketball court, but it wasn't just one title. The Lady Vols won the Mississippi High School of Independent Schools Division 2-AAA, the Class AAA and the Overall State crowns.
Starkville Academy athletic director and girls basketball coach Glenn Schmidt said the rise to the top didn't come without hard work.
"People see the game and who scored, but they don't see the 6 a.m. practices, they don't see the weight room, the struggles they've gone through and the love they have for each other," Schmidt said. "They are a bunch of good ole girls that get after it, plus they are pretty good basketball players and they have worked to be that. They have planned this whether they said it or not."
The Lady Vols are off to an undefeated start this season at 20-0 after defeating SBEC on Saturday.
Football was not the only sport where the Yellowjackets were called State champions.
On the soccer field, the SHS boys also went through Pascagoula with a 1-0 victory in February to capture the school's first State title.
The Jackets defeated Center Hill 4-0, Oxford 4-2, Hernando 3-1 and Pascagoula to claim the prize.
"This was a long time coming," SHS boys soccer coach Brian Bennett said after his team won Class 5A North. "Being in 6A, we'd play those teams close all those years and being in there with Tupelo. We finished second so many times in the division and had to go on the road in the first round. Getting the first round and being able to play for the North State at home was big."
The Jackets are off to another good start this season with a 10-1-1 mark.
There were also individual State championships won by Kate Mattox and Joe MacGown of SHS in cross country, Mattox in the 3,200- and 1,600-meter runs at the Class 5A track meet, the Jackets boys 4x400 meter relay team of Damian Grady, Jacoby Smith, Kamau Bostic and Jalen Catledge, Hannah Laird and Emily Turner of SHS in girls doubles tennis, and Lady Jackets relay team of Mark Ann Hobart, Kristen Lacy, Sarah Byrd and Laken Vickers in swimming.
The championships didn't stop at the high school level.
Mississippi State's baseball team won six games in six days to claim the Southeastern Conference Tournament crown in Hoover, Ala.
"We stuck with the plan," MSU baseball coach John Cohen said. "We were 5-10 at one point of the SEC and we end up winning 21 games in our league. You can't do that without kids with tremendous character and that's what we have."
Danny Carlisle was no stranger to success during his 35 years of service to Starkville High School and 29 seasons as head baseball coach. Carlisle retired and worked his final season for the Jackets in 2012.
"I've always said, it's not about me, but about the kids and relationships you build with players and parents," Carlisle said. "It's not just baseball kids, but kids in general during 35 years of teaching and coaching."
Late in the year in football, former East Webster player Johnthan Banks became the first MSU player to win a major college award when he was presented with the Jim Thorpe Award, signifying the nation's best defensive back.
"First of all, it's a blessing from God to be given this opportunity," Banks said. "I want to thank the Jim Thorpe Association. It's kind of shocking. There are so many great defensive backs in the country and this is all just a dream to me."
It was just one of a long list of awards for Banks, who is sure to be a high pick in next year's National Football League draft.
Banks has helped the Bulldogs reach their third-straight postseason bowl game as they take on the Northwestern Wildcats in the Gator Bowl on Tuesday.
In MSU basketball news, men's basketball coach Rick Stansbury and women's coach Sharon Fanning-Otis announced their retirements. Stansbury was replaced by another Rick in Ray, while Vic Schaefer took over for Fanning-Otis.
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