Women’s basketball: Columbus seniors formalize their university choices

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Of all the positive stats the Columbus High School women’s basketball team has compiled in recent years, one stands out from Falcons coach Yvonne Hairston.

“We had six seniors and we have six (college) signers,” Hairston told an audience gathered Thursday morning to celebrate Columbus student-athletes who will be playing college basketball. “It’s a blessing to say that, and that’s what it’s all about.

“I would love to win a state championship every year, but that’s not what it’s about. It gives these young girls the opportunity to move forward and have a better life for themselves and their families and become great young girls.

Five of those signatories were honored in the high school auditorium: Fredija Clark, Shania Givens, Makayla Rieves, China Stewart and Charity Yeates. A sixth, MaShanti Saddler, has a basketball scholarship offer but is also considering an athletics offer.

Rieves and Yeates head to Itawamba Community College in Fulton. The Indians are coming off a 15-10 season that ended in a two-point loss to Pearl River in the second round of the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament.

“When I took the tour, I knew straight away.” Yeates said of the ICC, noting how badly they wanted it was a key part of his decision. “I think that’s what appealed to me the most, how much they really wanted to give me a scholarship.”

Yeates said she wanted to study biology and psychology, with the eventual goal of earning an undergraduate degree in business with aspirations of becoming a counsellor. But she is also eager to improve as a basketball player.

“I know I’m going to follow a program that will push me to perform at my best,” she said. “I’m so lucky that my dream has come true.”

Rieves said she also had very warm feelings being around the Indians program.

“I thought Itawamba was a good choice because they are like family there,” she said. “I feel like they will take good care of me and help me get to where I want to be.”

Two other Falcons will be college teammates, as Clark and Stewart each picked Mississippi Delta Community College in Moorhead. The Trojans struggled last season, posting an 8-16, 3-11 record in the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference.

“They’re still building, and I feel like I can help them,” Clark said, adding that his aggressiveness down the center would be an asset for the Trojans.

Stewart cited the campus itself as a draw she acknowledged that Moorhead, a town of just over 2,000 people, is much smaller than Columbus. “There’s a McDonald’s,” she offered with a chuckle but she also said she liked the coaches and the players. Coach Tangela Banks, who just completed her second season with the Trojans, coached Forest Hill and Murrah to the state championships before heading to MDCC.

Givens, meanwhile, will head to Meridian Community College. Traditionally a strong program, the Eagles were 10-12 last season, 7-7 at MACCC.

“They always have a good schedule,” Givens said. “They put in a lot of work, and I like the work they do.”

The five made remarks that touched on the usual basics: thanking parents, teammates, friends and coaches. But Hairston also clarified that the players themselves have gone to great lengths to get to this point in their lives.

“There’s a lot going on off the pitch before you get a chance to see us play,” Hairston told the audience. “The many hours we practice, Saturdays, Sundays, 6 a.m. when you’re sleeping, we’re in that gym.”

Hairston became emotional in her closing remarks, noting that the group was leaving her but adding, “I’m just a phone call away. And they know it.

The players made it clear that they understood that the last four years weren’t all great games and cheering crowds. Still, if there were any regrets, they were far from everyone’s mind in the room.

Said Stewart: “This trip has been so much fun, and I wouldn’t change for a moment.”

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