By Robert Wilson

       Holly Moncrief took over a state championship girls basketball team when she left Puckett for Lake this past summer.

       Coach Maurice Bowie had led Lake to a 24-3 record and the MHSAA Class 2A state title – the first state title since 2001 – before leaving for his alma mater Morton a month later to take over the boys basketball program.

       For Moncrief, a Brandon High, Meridian Community College and Belhaven University graduate, coming in to replace Bowie and a state championship caliber program wasn’t as easy as people might think.

       “Expectations are high, and I love a challenge,” said Moncrief, who had 230-71 record, and four Girls State Tournament appearances in 10 years at Puckett before coming to Lake. Her best season was when she coached Puckett – led by PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Player of the Year Rose Warren, now playing at Southern Miss – to a 28-5 record and the 2A state semifinals in 2019-2020.

Photo by Jeff Parks

“This group works extremely hard to repeat this year. This group of girls are gritty, determined, and fun to coach. They have truly bought into what we are trying to do. It’s not always easy coming into a team that just won a state championship last year, but they have been receptive and willing to learn more.”

       Moncrief’s husband, Joe, is in his first year at Lake’s high school principal.

       “Lake has a winning tradition, so I definitely wanted to be a part of that and with my husband becoming the principal here made it an opportunity as a family at the same place,” Moncrief said.

Moncrief inherited three returning starters – senior point guard Laneisha Palm, senior forward Brooklyn Harris, and senior guard Kelis Odom – from last year’s team, which won its last 18 games, including a 46-44 victory over Belmont for the state championship, the school’s first state title since 2001.

Palm is averaging 22.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 4.1 steals. Harris is averaging 13.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 6.1 blocked shots and 2.3 assists. Odom is averaging 12.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 2.1 assists. In addition, Moncrief said Lyric Lay, Anyia Hunt, Taylor Clark, Alicia Oliphant, T’Lea Hunt, and Nett Pinkston contribute key minutes for this year’s success.

Moncrief has led Lake to a 20-9 record this season, with seven of the losses coming to bigger schools, Class 6A Hancock, 5A Vicksburg, 4A Leake Central (twice), 3A Morton, 3A Forest and 3A Alcorn Central.

Lake will try to take another step closer to a second consecutive state title Friday at 6 p.m. when it plays host to Pisgah in the second round of the 2A state playoffs. Lake defeated Pisgah 58-26 Dec. 19 at Pisgah.

Said Moncrief: “The Lady Hornets love to play fast and get after you defensively. It is so much fun to watch.”