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Easley credits players for MACJC Coach of the Year honor
 April 24, 2010

By Shawn Wansley, JCJC Sports Information Director

ELLISVILLE - It was kind of a 'no-brainer' when it came to choosing the MACJC Women's Tennis Coach of the Year for 2010.

The Jones County Junior College Lady Bobcats posted a 17-1 regular season record and won their second straight MACJC State Tournament title on April 17 in Tupelo, posting 30 points to easily outdistance second-place finisher Itawamba, who had 22.

Consequently, MACJC coaches voted JCJC's Mark Easley as the top coach in the state. It was the second straight year for Easley to be named MACJC Women's Coach of the Year and he was named the Men's Coach of the Year two years ago.

Easley was quick to credit his players for the recognition.

"It's an honor because your fellow coaches vote on it," he said. "But it all goes back to the players. A 'Coach of the Year' usually has a successful season, which goes back to the players.

"I have to put it all in the hands of our girls because of the way they played. Even though my name might be on the plaque, it's just as much theirs. I'm honored to receive it, but it really goes to the whole team."

JCJC won four women's state singles championships, as sophomores Tiffany Hudson and Rebecca Rogers, along with freshmen Arlette Cochran and Samantha Dickerson triumphed. In doubles, sophomores Mary Carole Kiewit and Meredith Johnson were victorious at the state tournament. Rounding out the team are sophomore Jillian McNeese, along with freshmen Lexi Bowen, Dana Ivey and Mary Jo Goodin.

The season is not over for the Lady Bobcats as they will now head to Tucson, Ariz., for the NJCAA Nationals, which will be May 1-6 at the Randolph Tennis Center. This will be the sixth time in seven years for the JCJC women's tennis team to make the trip. They qualified for the nationals by finishing second to Meridian Community College in the Region 23 Tournament.

The team will fly out on Friday and there will be a mandatory meeting for the coaches on Saturday afternoon. The tournament will begin Sunday morning.

Easley, who is in his 11th season leading the Bobcat tennis program, expected the Lady Bobcats to field a solid team going into 2010.

"We knew coming into the season our girls would be strong again because of the sophomores we had returning from last year's state championship team," he said. "They proved me correct there and repeated as state champions. I won't say it was easy to do because we had a strong team. But the girls were really determined this year. They had won it last year with a number of individual winners and they were determined to do it again this year. They did what it took to do that.

"We had a couple of freshmen mixed in with them that had good years and they were able to win some individual singles' titles, too, at the state tournament. You mix all of that with the work ethic we have and it was a good recipe for success."

Easley, a Vardaman native, added this group of Lady Bobcats accomplished more than any group from the past and will be difficult to replace.

"They are a great group to work with," he said. "They have a good work ethic, good practice habits and they wanted to go out and play and compete.

"I believe this group, as a whole, is the best sophomore group we have had to come through here. We have had good players in the past, but top to bottom, this is the strongest team we've had. They are a class group that played the right way.

"Obviously, we will miss them and it will be a tough group to replace. The freshmen will have some huge shoes to fill. We've got some good freshmen that we've signed and they will have to step up to the challenge, too."

Easley also coaches the JCJC men's team.

The Bobcats enjoyed quite a bit of success there, posting a 13-3 record and finishing third in the state behind Itawamba and Hinds. That qualified them for the regionals, where they finished fourth and just missed out on qualifying for nationals.

Freshman Dalton Delk ending up winning a state singles' title. Rounding out the team were sophomores Cody Kadoun, Eric Lynn, Ray Moore and Tyler Shows, along with freshmen Nathan Burkett, Armand Deniakos and Cade Sherman.

"I'm disappointed for our guys not qualifying for nationals because they had a really good year," Easley said. "They competed so well throughout the year. They were great to work with - just like the girls - a pleasure to work with and they are good guys. They wanted to go out and play well and win every time out and that's what you look for from your players.

"I thought we won all the ones we were supposed to win. We competed well against Hinds and they beat us twice and we split with Itawamba. You could not ask for a better effort."

Easley was pleased with the men's team's performance in the state tournament and the regionals.

"We had a real good state tournament and we fought hard in the regionals," said Easley. "They gave themselves a shot to make nationals. I'm disappointed for them, especially the sophomores. But they have had two good years here and they have given me everything they could and that's all I've asked for. We'll miss those guys.

"But we've got a good group of freshmen coming back that will give us a good nucleus. We can add to them and we'll have a strong, competitive team again with the guys next year. Overall, I was very pleased with the guys' season and we are looking forward to next year."

But there is still some work to be done for the women's team.

Easley and the Lady Bobcats are preparing for the trip to Tucson. He said the trip to nationals is something that is important to the team and he credits JCJC president Dr. Jesse Smith and the school's Board of Trustees for allowing it to happen.

"It all starts at the top," he said. "Dr. Smith and the Board of Trustees are so supportive of athletics, not just the academic side of what a student-athlete is supposed to be, but the extra-curricular side, as well. That is part of the college experience and not everybody gets to experience that.

"We are blessed to have the leadership that supports it the way they do. There are several teams that qualify for the national tournament that don't get to go, whether it's financial or the commitment is not there from the school.  But even with the hard financial times we are going through, our president and board are finding a way to support us."

Easley said the trip to Arizona is important to the Lady Bobcats and to JCJC.

"We have seven girls that compete on the team and it is a big deal to them," he said. "It's a big deal to them, to me, the program and the school and it all starts at the top. Being able to go to nationals six of the last seven years is something these girls can be proud of for keeping that tradition going.

"I won't say it's expected for us to go every year, but it's disappointing when we do not."

Easley said the competition would be very strong in the nationals, with top-ranked players from all over the country involved, as well as some very strong international players. But he said the Lady Bobcats would give a good account of themselves.

"They are going to go out and play and compete just like they have all year," he said. "They will play to the best of their ability, have a good time and try to win as many matches as they can. They know what's ahead of them out there.

"We will do as well as we can and represent our school in a way that will make our folks proud."

The tournament also falls at a difficult time academically for the Lady Bobcats. The final day of classes for the spring semester at JCJC will be May 7 and the team will be in Arizona all week prior to that day. Final exams will begin on May 10.

But Easley said the players would be able to handle the classwork and be prepared for finals, thanks to the JCJC faculty.

"Academically, I try to prepare them throughout the season for this, not only with the hopes we are going to make the national tournament, but because we also miss a lot of time during the season," he said. "The players have to make a commitment academically and they have done that throughout the season. We normally have one of the highest team GPAs in the nation and they know what it involves.

"I can't say enough about our faculty and their willingness to work with them because of the missed classes and missed labs. Our faculty is very cooperative and they will do what they can to help them succeed because they understand this is part of their college life, too.

"Our players love to play tennis and tennis is helping to pay for part of their school."

For more on the NJCAA Women's Division I Tennis Tournament, go to www.njcaa.org.

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