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Quitman High School Athletics

NEWS

Senior Quartet Leads Panthers

SENIOR QUARTET LEADS PANTHERS

QUITMAN — The Quitman High School girls basketball team was deeply entrenched in a back-and-forth contest Tuesday evening with MHSAA Class 6A foe Meridian High School. Lady Panthers coach Gina Skelton tinkered with separate lineups at the start of the game and at halftime. Yet, with the contest up for grabs, four of the five players on the court remained in the game during the final 12 minutes. Chequira Bonner, Shonte Hailes, Sendreca Howard and Amber McKenzie demonstrated the poise and confidence necessary to help their squad emerge with a 47-43 win. "I trust them, and I have a lot of confidence in them, and they have a lot of confidence in each other," Skelton said of her four seniors. "When you can trust your teammates, and you trust your coach, and everybody trusts each other, that's the foundation of any type of relationship and any type of team work." It should come as no surprise Skelton turned to her senior quartet in crunch time as the four Lady Panthers have a wealth of experience in big games, having reached the MHSAA Class 4A semifinals last season. The Lady Panthers (5-1) dropped that semifinals contest last May, 49-47, on a last-second shot to Bay High School. "I remember that ball just bouncing," Hailes recalled. "And when it dropped in, it broke our hearts." However, Bonner said the devastating defeat ultimately made them stronger as a team and said she is eager for what the 2015-16 campaign could potentially bring. "We definitely want to win a state championship this year," Bonner said. "(Coach Skelton) has the (semifinal game) article hanging up in the locker room. It hurts to lose by a buzzer beater, but it's going to take the team to contribute for us to win it all." The four seniors have risen through the ranks together, starting in their seventh-grade year in developing a strong bond. "We're just a group of girls that grew up together and that share a love for basketball," McKenzie said. "We enjoy playing together, and we enjoy being around each other on and off the court." Entering their ninth-grade season, Skelton accepted her current position at Quitman and has since raised the expectation level for the program. "When you come into a new program, the first thing you have to do is get the kids to believe in your system," Skelton said. "This group sold in right from the beginning. After that, it makes a whole lot easier. We started then talking about getting to the next level. ... Our aspirations every year is to win a state championship." Skelton managed to record career win No. 800 earlier this season, something that registers heavily not only with her, but her players as well. "(Skelton) knows a lot," Hailes said. "And because she knows a lot, we now know a lot. It was good to be there (for Skelton's 800th win) and share that special moment with her." Yet Skelton and her squad have their eyes set on the pinnacle team prize of a state championship, and understand merely about it won't prove to be enough; they must put in the necessary work to achieve their ultimate goal. "We have to continue to box out and communicate on defense," Howard said. "We have to keep our poise and positive energy throughout. We have to let negative plays go and push forward and focus on the next possession."

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