TIPPAH/BENTON – The 2020/2021 sports season in both Tippah and Benton County saw several instances of high-level athletes showcasing their talents, teams triumphing over unfavorable odds to see success, and countless exciting moments and lessons that the area’s young athletes won’t soon forget.

While both Tippah and Benton County played host to these collections of high school talent, they also served as the hometown of several athletes that made an impact at the college level this past school year. These highly skilled young men and women made both an impact at their current school, and also made their alma mater proud with their respective achievements.

Jackson State’s SWAC title win featured several local standouts

The Jackson State women’s basketball team made their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2008 after defeating Alabama State 67-66 in the SWAC Tournament Finals in March to earn an automatic bid.

The Jackson State Tigers were led in scoring in that game, as well as in the season, by SWAC Player of the Year and former Ripley Tiger Dayzsha Rogan. Rogan, the SWAC Tournament MVP, put up 17.6 points per game, led the conference in free-throw percentage at .803, and was top-ten in the conference in three-point percentage and steals per game. Rogan also received a nomination for the C Spire Gillom Trophy, given to the top women’s college basketball player in the state.

Rogan wasn’t the only area athlete on that Jackson State squad, as she was joined by former Ashland Blue Devil J’Niya Tallie. While Tallie’s scoring numbers may not mirror her counterpart from Ripley, she was instrumental in Jackson State’s success this past season, setting up teammates with consistently good looks. This was most apparent during a February matchup against Arkansas Pine Bluff, where Tallie dished out a season-high ten assists in an 81-48 win for the Tigers.

As for what’s next for the duo, Rogan announced she will return to Jackson State for one more season, in which Jackson State will look to replicate their success from this past season. As for Tallie, she recently began hosting a basketball camp in her hometown of Ashland, passing down some of the things she’s learned on her journey to a new generation of potential athletes.

Ripley arms making a home at EMCC

A pair of former Ripley Tiger pitchers had an impact at EMCC this past season, as both Cade Davis and Will Long were featured members of EMCC’s pitching rotation.

Davis finished his 2021 campaign with a 6-3 record, picking up a 5.04 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 50 innings pitched. Davis also picked up an All-MACCC honorable mention for his play last season.

Long wasn’t far behind Davis, picking up a 4.99 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 48.2 innings pitched. The Ripley-EMCC connection could be felt most during doubleheaders on several occasions throughout the season, when both Davis and Long started a game apiece for East Mississippi.

Gridiron Classics

Former Walnut Wildcat standouts Kevin Hurley and Monterio Hunt both look to make an impact on the football field after notable performances this past season.

Hurley filled in at quarterback for NEMCC this past season and led the Tigers to a 5-1 record, getting a second-team All-American selection in the process. The former Wildcat had 881 yards passing with a 10/4 TD/INT ratio, and 261 rushing yards with a pair of scores on the ground. Hurley’s performance led him to transfer to UTEP in the spring, where he will look to make an impact at El Paso.

Speaking of spring, another former Wildcat had an impact at a division one school during the spring, as Monterio Hunt hauled in a 28-yard TD pass during Rutgers’ Scarlett-White Spring Game. The Walnut native will look to make a big-time contribution to the Scarlett Knights’ 2021 football season.

While he may not be on the field, former Ripley and Mississippi State offensive lineman Michael Story will look to make his impact as a coach, as he accepted an assistant coaching position at his alma mater of Ripley after a season at Falkner as an assistant. Story will coach offensive line under head coach Perry Liles, while also taking on coaching duties with the middle school team.

On the track and on the fairway

Blue Mountain College featured a pair of former Ripley Tigers on their cross-country team, as Jesus Ruedas and Owen Hill both ran for the Toppers, who finished third as a team in the SSAC. Hill was noted on the Barnes and Noble All-Academic Team.

Former Walnut Wildcat Kye Meeks made his mark on Ole Miss’ golf team in his freshman year, picking up an appearance on the SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll. Meeks also put on a great performance at the Danielle Naes Collegiate in December of 2020, picking up medalist honors.

With all the local talent that has made their mark across the state of Mississippi and beyond, and with the 2021-2022 school year fast approaching, the journey of answering the question of, “who’s going to the next level next?” will be one that will lead to many more unforgettable moments being made in Tippah and Benton County.

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