There was an extra sense of excitement in the halls of Olive Branch High School Monday morning as students returned to class from spring break.
The excitement turned into a celebration pep rally for all 1,100 students of the DeSoto County school, an unannounced surprise gathering to congratulate recent successes on the basketball floor and the dance floor.
Monday was the first day back in class since the Lady Quistors basketball team had claimed the school’s first state 6A basketball championship in its history, a success claimed in its third state finals try in four years on March 11 with a heart-stopping 57-54 comeback victory over Starkville at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
There were smiles all around as the players savored the moment when they were welcomed into the gymnasium with loud applause and cheers from their fellow classmates.
“It feels unreal because it’s the first time Olive Branch has won this state championship and it really feels good,” said forward Katie Blackmon. “It’s unbelievable.”
It was not only the girls basketball team’s show, however. Monday’s rally also welcomed the school’s dance team that in December won a 5A/6A state championship in hip hop, beating out second-place Center Hill and third-place DeSoto Central, both DeSoto County rivals, for that championship.
Added to that was recognition of the boys’ basketball team’s success in reaching the 6A state basketball tournament for the first time since 2008 and the announcement to the school of standout point guard Myah Taylor being named Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year for the third straight year, a first in Mississippi.
“We’re actually the home of three state championships since I’ve been here,” said Principal Allyson Killough. “We won the boys’ state track championship in 2015, then our dance team won state and now we’re excited to have our girls’ basketball team win state.”
Killough said the rally was put together to foster pride in the school and highlight its recent achievements.
“We want to celebrate our successes because when you do that, you are celebrating the student,” Killough said. “You are celebrating their hard work and their dedication. You’re celebrating the team and the coach and as a school we’re coming together and we have even more pride in our school because of all of the great things that are going on.”
The importance of Monday’s rally was not lost on Lady Quistors’ coach Jason Thompson, who received the state championship trophy six previous times at H.W. Byers in Holly Springs, before coming to Olive Branch and winning in his first year with the team.
“It means a lot because it shows the kids that the student body is behind them, starting with the administration on down,” Thompson said. “It’s a great thing, the joining of everybody celebrating and recognizing the hard work this team did.”
Still on the minds of players, fans, and administration officials were the tense final moments that Saturday night when the Lady Quistors recovered from as much as a nine-point deficit in the third quarter to win the state title.
“I was sweating bullets for sure,” Killough said. “But the girls pulled it out and i was so proud of them. The determination that they weren’t doing well in the game but in the very end when they finally got over the hump and were winning. They showed that determination to keep going forward.”
Another reason for a celebration in Olive Branch High School Monday morning, a place that can proudly call itself the home of champions.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext .240.