Jan Sojourner has coached more than 1,200 games in her 40-year career and she is known for having some of the toughest defenses among Mississippi girls basketball teams.

         So when Madison-Ridgeland Academy senior guard Rivers Futral scored 34 points against Sojourner in a 56-41 MRA win Jan. 21 at JA, it was big news.

         This is how big. Sojourner said only one other player — Christie Sides of Central Private School (La.) in the mid-1990s – has ever scored more points in a game against one of her teams. Sides was the Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year and went on to have an outstanding career at Ole Miss and Louisiana Tech.

Photo by Robert Smith

         Futral made 7 of 12 shots from the field, 2 of 3 from 3-point range, and 18 of 23 shots from the free throw line in the historic win for MRA, which ended a four-year conference winning streak of JA. She also had 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 blocked shot.

         Consider this: 17 of the 29 teams who played JA this season did not score more than 34 points.

         “Rivers is a great player who has gotten better every year,” Sojourner said. “She makes everyone around her better, which is the sign of a great player. She is very hard to guard. I am looking forward to watching her play at the next level (at Mississippi College where Sojourner played). She will also do a tremendous job of representing our conference (Mid-South Association of Independent Schools).”

         Sojourner coached Futral’s mom, Kimandria Moody Futral, at JA in the late 1980s. Kimandria was a four-year starter for the Lady Raiders. 

         “Kimandria was an outstanding basketball player,” Sojourner said. “I see a lot of Rivers’ mother on the floor because of her mannerisms and style of play. Her mother was a joy for me to coach and she had great teammates. We didn’t lose a lot of games with that group. She loved to compete and seems as if Rivers has received that trait from her mother. Her mother was a player that every coach loves to coach.”

         Rivers has carried on her mom’s winning ways. She is the career leading scorer at MRA and scored her 2,000th point Jan. 25 against Oak Forest. Futral is averaging 21 points and 3 assists per game and has led MRA to a 26-4 record and the Lady Patriots have won 11 games in a row. Rivers now has 2,080 career points entering Friday’s game with JA at MRA. 

         “This is my 24th season and I’ve never had a girl average more than 20 points in a season and I’ve had three Division I players, (Starkville Academy graduate) Ashley Johnson at Southern Miss, (MRA grad) Amber Landing at Southern Miss and (MRA grad) Tatyana Lofton at Tulane,” MRA coach Stephen Force said. “ Rivers can maneuver her skinny frame through the smallest areas to get to the basket. She can side step and go through players with ease. Rivers uses the euro step to her advantage where most girls can’t even do a euro step.

         “She scores about 50 percent of her points going to basket, 30 percent on jump shots and 20 percent on free throws. Rivers is a good ball handler and can use both hands. She can finish with both hands as well. Rivers is fantastic passer. She has more talent around her this year so not only can she get more assists, her opponents can’t focus as much as her because of teammates can score too.”

Photo by Robert Smith

         Rivers’ 34 points on JA earlier this year wasn’t even her career high. She scored 40 points in a 73-66 victory in triple overtime over Pillow Oct. 24 in the Canton Academy tournament. She has also scored against large public schools, hitting 24 against Class 6A state title contender Hernando and 20 against Lafayette County, considered the favorite to win Class 5A. 

         Futral has the respect of many of the coaches she has consistently put up big scoring numbers against and beaten over the past four years, including Jackson Prep coach Michael McAnally. Futral scored 26 points in a 60-44 victory over Prep Tuesday night at Prep.  

         “Rivers is a terrific competitor and as good as she was as a junior, she has elevated her play this year, evidenced by her individual numbers and the success of her team,” McAnally said. “Every team in our league knows that the scout begins with her. But she has clearly elevated the play of her teammates this season.” 

Futral signed a national letter of intent Wednesday with Mississippi College where her dad, Dr. Rob Futral, went to school and where her older brothers, Trea and Ridge are going. Ridge is playing on the Choctaws’ football team.

         “I honestly feel MC is the best fit for me. I haven’t been interested in a really big school and I like that MC is also a Christian school,’ Futral said. “I considered William Carey, University of Mobile, Delta State and many other schools including a couple in California.”

“She will do just fine at MC,” Force said. “Playing every day against players who are just as fast and skilled as she is will help her game. She will develop quickly. I believe she will play next year as a freshman.”

But first, there is the rest of her high school career, which she wanted to end at MRA, although was some debate about that this past summer because her parents moved to California. Her dad, Dr. Rob Futral, left Broadmoor Baptist Church in Madison and took a position as senior pastor at Pathway Church in Redlands, Calif.

“MRA has been a great place throughout her high school experience. Still, we encouraged her to be open to the possibilities or programs in California, and she was,” Rob Futral said. “But in the end, she had a number of personal and team goals that she wanted to work toward at MRA. Rivers has many great qualities, but one of her strongest is an intense loyalty and it was that quality that surfaced most. After praying through all the possibilities we all had a peace about her finishing her senior year at MRA and her high school career with her teammates.”

“It was probably the most difficult decision we have ever had to make and the one that we bathed in prayer,” Kimandria said. “We asked Rivers to be in prayer about God’s calling on our ministry and what He would have her to do. We wanted the best for her and ultimately it was her decision.  Since it was her senior year and she had close family, many special friends, faithful supporters and teammates, she decided to stay and remained loyal to them. It has been very difficult, but being in God’s will and being obedient has helped comfort us and our children in our move. Following God in these steps of obedience has brought us a sense of fulfillment and great joy. However, it did not come without great sacrifice and cost in regard to our family, especially for Rivers. We are very proud of how strong she has been in this new season of our lives.”

Futral is living with Rob’s parents, Dr. Jim and Shirley Futral, and also spends a lot of time at her teammates’ homes. 

Photo by Robert Smith

Futral’s parents have been able to come back to Mississippi for some games.

“We have been very fortunate to make it back at least once a month for games and when we are unable to attend we do watch the live stream,” Kimandra said. “It was such a great joy to witness her 2,000 point milestone that I will never forget. Unfortunately that game came after Rob had to leave to make it back in time to preach.”

They watched Tuesday night’s win over Prep, Wednesday’s signing day with MC and are scheduled to stay for Friday night’s game vs. JA where the school is recognizing her for scoring 2,000 points. And they will be back for Senior Night Feb. 14 against Copiah. Then there is the Class 5A state tournament and the Overall Tournament. Futral hopes to lead MRA to its first Overall girls title since 2015.