The Northeast Mississippi Community College athletic department had one of its most successful seasons to date during the institution’s 68th year of intercollegiate competition.
Four teams earned national rankings while six squads participated in state and regional postseason tournaments during a phenomenal 2016-17 academic year.
The men’s basketball team headlined the group of programs at Northeast for a second consecutive campaign after capturing the 16th Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division championship in its illustrious history.
The Tigers opened the season at No. 25 in The Sporting News magazine’s preseason rankings and backed that up by winning eight of its initial nine contests going into the Christmas break, which featured marquee triumphs over Motlow State (Tenn.) Community College and Columbia State (Tenn.) Community College.
Northeast went through a tough stretch in January by splitting its six matchups, but bounced back to go undefeated in February. Shunn Buchanan’s (Madison) jumper with eight seconds left in overtime at Mississippi Delta Community College secured the Tigers’ division title on February 20.
Cord Wright’s Tigers advanced to the championship game of both the MACJC State Tournament and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region 23 Tournament before being eliminated by Jones County Junior College.
Leroy Buchanan (Madison) became the third Northeast representative to compete in the NJCAA All-Star Game. He was one of five double-digit scorers for the NJCAA Division I team with 11 points plus six rebounds in a 109-91 setback to players from NJCAA Divisions II/III in Las Vegas, Nev., at the Orleans Arena.
The Murray State (Ky.) University signee was also selected as the 17th NJCAA All-American in program history. He earned MACJC All-State honors as well alongside his brother Shunn and Kendall Stafford (Corinth).
The Tigers finished with a 21-8 overall record, which included an incredible 11-1 mark inside legendary Bonner Arnold Coliseum. It was the first time in 17 years for Northeast to win over 20 games in a single season.
Brenda Mayes and the Lady Tigers had a solid campaign on the court themselves after winning 16 games. Northeast also went 10-2 in division play to finish as the MACJC North runner-up and return to the playoffs after a three-year hiatus.
The Lady Tigers played a brutally tough non-division schedule to prepare them for their future success with early matchups against eventual NJCAA Division I National Tournament participants Shelton State (Ala.) Community College, Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College and Motlow State.
Northeast went on to win 10 of its final 12 regular season contests, including a thrilling 65-62 decision over rival Itawamba Community College at the Davis Event Center and a 98-97 overtime triumph at Northwest Mississippi Community College.
Timaya Stewart (Baldwyn) helped the Lady Tigers capture their first NJCAA Region 23 Tournament triumph in 11 years. Her layup with four-tenths of a second left in regulation forced overtime versus Southwest Mississippi Community College, where Northeast outscored its opponent 11-2 to advance to the semifinal round.
Shelby Wilbanks (Walnut) was recognized with NJCAA All-Region 23 honors after averaging team-highs of 16.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. The Charleston Southern (S.C.) University signee finished her tenure in Booneville with 832 total points.
Joining Wilbanks in the illustrious 500-point club were her teammates LaKeiya Lane (Southaven) and Stewart, who compiled 691 and 628 points, respectively. Aundrea Adams (Corinth), Lane and Wilbanks received MACJC All-State accolades as well.
The football program took a major step forward under second-year headman Greg Davis. The Tigers held a national ranking for a majority of the season before checking in at No. 10 in the final NJCAA poll.
It was the first time in school history for Northeast to hold a top 10 final ranking. The Tigers appeared as highly as No. 7 in the NJCAA’s weekly ratings during the regular season.
Northeast went undefeated against non-division opponents for just the third time ever and for the first instance since 2005. Among those triumphs was a marquee road win at eventual MACJC South champion East Central Community College.
The Tigers tied a 35-year-old school record for most points scored in a single game during its 55-30 week four victory at Southwest. That record was originally set in 1981 when Northeast defeated Coahoma Community College by a 55-18 margin.
A four-game winning streak in the middle of the campaign included a big 30-12 triumph over Itawamba at Tiger Stadium in which Northeast held its rival scoreless for the initial three quarters.
Twenty Tigers advanced their careers to the next level, including seven that signed with Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) institutions. Six Northeast standouts were selected for MACJC All-State distinction.
First-team laurels went to offensive lineman Jo’Quarius Savage (Monroe, La.) and defensive lineman Anthony Rush (Raleigh, N.C.). Those on the second-team included wide receiver L.J. Hawkins (Water Valley), linebacker Demarcus Rogers (Tupelo), offensive lineman Ethan Smart (Southaven) and defensive back Josh Thurman (Greenwood).
Veteran headman Jody Long recorded a personal milestone on opening day of the softball season. He passed his mentor David Carnell to became the winningest coach in program history with his 257th career victory in game one of a doubleheader at Dyersburg State (Tenn.) Community College.
Northeast got off to a fast start overall with a 12-4 record by the end of February. The Tigers won six in a row to close the month, including a solid triumph over preseason nationally ranked Heartland (Ill.) Community College at the Rush Invitational in Meridian.
The quick sprint out of the gate was recognized countrywide when Northeast gained its first national ranking since the 2009 campaign. The Tigers rose to as high as No. 17 in the nation according to the NJCAA.
Northeast eventually qualified for the MACJC state playoffs as the seventh seed and pushed Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to the brink in a pair of tight two-run setbacks in a first round series played at Biloxi High School.
Jessica Boyd (St. Joseph, Mich.) became the fourth pitcher and the 19th athlete in program history to obtain All-American acknowledgement when Fastpitch News released its annual list of honorees.
The University of Montevallo (Ala.) signee placed third in school history with 296 strikeouts over the course of two years. She also garnered MACJC All-State awards along with fellow sophomores Tia Davis (Ecru) and Molly Walden (Booneville), who both started in the outfield for the Tigers.
Richy Harrelson directed the baseball club to its second straight 20-plus win campaign in as many years with him at the helm against one of the toughest schedules in the entire country.
Northeast’s offense blossomed during the last couple of weeks of the year. The Tigers scored 10 or more runs during four out of five contests at one point, including a season-best 24 runs in a victory at Southwest.
Three different Northeast standouts accumulated over 50 hits throughout the campaign. Bailey Walker (Lake Cormorant) led that group with 66 base knocks while Tucker Childers (Ripley) tallied 51 and Garrison Howell (Houston) had 50.
Walker was sensational for the Tigers and ranked sixth in the NJCAA with an exceptional .465 batting average. He also topped Northeast with a .538 on-base percentage, .683 slugging percentage, 46 runs, 12 doubles and 11 stolen bases.
Howell and Walker both surpassed 100 hits during their tenure in the City of Hospitality. Childers had a team-high 21 extra base hits, including 10 home runs, and 43 RBIs as a freshman.
Childers and Walker were named to the MACJC All-State team for their efforts. Four players advanced their careers to four-year institutions, including Northeast’s strikeout leader Ryan Wesson (Baldwyn) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
The golf program was highly competitive in the MACJC once again and wrapped up its campaign, which consisted of eight tournaments spread from September through April, with a No. 25 national ranking according to Golfstat.
The Tigers’ best result of the year was in an October tour stop at Grand Bear Golf Course in Saucier. Northeast placed fifth among MACJC participants at the event hosted by Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Denver Russell (Pontotoc) finished 16th in the Magnolia State with a scoring average of 76.3 shots per round, which allowed him to participate as an individual in the NJCAA District D Tournament.
Both the men’s and women’s tennis teams found themselves under new leadership. Stewart Moore, who played for the Tigers himself from 1994-95, took the reins of both programs.
The Lady Tigers fared better in doubles matchups than in singles competition this year. Morgan Trexler (New Albany) guided that effort and was part of five doubles triumphs with partners Sara Talley (Corinth) and Kristina Taylor (Belmont).
The Tigers were almost the exact opposite with better luck in singles play. The trio of Cory Lindsey (Belmont), Jacob Price (Glen) and Tomas Tucker (Shannon) all tied for the most individual victories this year.
Chasity Moore entered her second season as coach of the cheerleading squad, which continued to provide constant support for the Northeast football and basketball departments.
From pep rallies on Thursday afternoons in the fall to the final whistle inside historic Bonner Arnold Coliseum, Northeast’s cheerleaders were on duty to encourage the home crowds and root on the Lady Tigers and Tigers.
A school-record 40 Northeast athletes accumulated MACJC Academic All-State honors while 17 young men and women collected NJCAA Academic Student-Athlete Awards.
Student-athletes with a perfect 4.0 grade point average (GPA) were Caleb Griffin (Starkville), Ryan Holland (Oxford), Eli Murphree (Oxford) and Josh Stillman (Columbus) from baseball and Walden from softball.