Coahoma County High School has been the Class 2A Mississippi High School Activities Association state runner-up two of past four basketball seasons, but the Lady Red Panthers are in a rebuilding mode for 2020-21.
Senior power forward and center Tyana McClenton is helping with the team’s transition process through her experience and leadership. She averaged three points, 8.1 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.4 blocks as CCHS fell one game shy of a state championship in 2019-20.
Two key players from 2019-20 - small forward Nakia Cheatham and shooting guard Calysia Phillips - graduated and are playing junior college basketball.
“Our team, we had won many games and we had lost some games, but we had made it to the championship. But we came out short,” McClenton said. “This year, we have a young team. We’ve got to get used to them. We’ve got to help them. You can’t get frustrated because it’s not going to help.”
McClenton accepts her know role for the current season.
“I’m going to have to work with my new young players and help them with the game, help them adjust, adapt to the game, to the sport,” she said. “When we get out on the court, I’m going to have to take over and help them.”
In the midst of the COVID pandemic, the Lady Red Panthers have not played many games. They opened with a 49-13 loss at cross-town rival Clarksdale High School.
McClenton acknowledged not playing much could slow the team’s progress, but there is also a positive side as the Lady Red Panthers practice two hours per day.
“It can help us, too, it can better us in practice while we’re having practice during COVID,” McClenton said.
“We’re staying safe. Sometimes we’re getting our temperature checked. We wear masks and then after practice, we sanitize and make sure we don’t have a fever.”
McClenton’s expectations for the season are realistic.
“I know I’m not going to win as many games as I won last year, but I would like to win some games,” she said. “My goals are to just help my team better themselves.”
Looking ahead, McClenton does believe CCHS will experience long-term success.
“Our young players are getting better,” McClenton said. “They are practicing. You can see a difference from when we first started playing until now. They’re communicating more. They’re working on everything that we were trying to work on before.”
Reflecting on the first three years of her high school career, McClenton said her best game came at Leflore County.
“We were down 10 points and I was a sophomore,” McClenton said. “I got in the game and I had brought us back up. I had 10 points in like five minutes. It was going into halftime. Coach (Derrick Moore) came back when we were in the locker room. He was like, ‘I’m proud of you. You’re showing more effort than you’ve ever been doing.’ He congratulated me.”
McClenton, 17, learned to love basketball from seeing her cousin Kyra McClenton, 25. Kyra was a guard and small forward who graduated from Coahoma County High School and Moore was also her coach.
“When she was playing, I was growing up watching her and I started liking sports,” McClenton said. “Then I started getting into it more like she was into it. When she graduated, I wanted to let her know that I wanted to play, too. So, in elementary, my sixth grade year, I tried out for the team. I made the team. I started. From there, I just fell in love with the sport.”
Tyana and Kyra McClenton both played for Lyon Elementary School.
McClenton hopes to continue her basketball career at the college level.
“I really don’t know which school I want to go to now,” she said. “I’m still undecided.”
However, McClenton has chosen petroleum engineering as her major.
“It’s helping the environment,” McClenton said. “That’s what I want to do. What’s going on in the world today like where there’s pollution, it’s not helping the Earth. It’s killing it. People don’t understand all this pollution in the air and dumping stuff in the water, that’s not helping the environment. It’s killing it. It’s killing animals. It’s endangering animals. It puts animals into extinction.”