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New MHS coach ready to work

By By Tony Krausz / assistant sports editor
April 21, 2004
There should be no surprise that Meridian High School principal R.D. Harris didn't hesitate in naming 26-year-old Stephanie Murphy as the school's new head girls basketball coach.
Harris is not afraid to take chances when it comes to hiring young coaches. He was vice principal at Meridian High when the school took a risk on a young man to take over the football team in 1978.
The hiring raised a few eyebrows, but after 400-plus wins and numerous championships the hiring of Mac Barnes didn't seem to be such a gamble.
Meridian High is hoping that taking a chance on another young coach will pay off again, as the the school introduced Murphy as the new girls head basketball coach on Tuesday.
"I've had 38 years of experience in the business, and every once in a while you come across that person in my opinion, she is that person," Harris said. "When we finished interviewing her, we knew she was it."
Murphy takes over the Lady Wildcats program after just two years of coaching experience. She was a graduate assistant at Ole Miss in 2002 and was an assistant coach at Tupelo High School last year, helping guide the team to a third place finish in the Class 5A State Championship.
Murphy's resume may be short, but she exhibited traits beyond her years during the interview process to rise to the top of Meridian High's list out of 19 candidates.
"(Murphy) will do an outstanding job," said Meridian High athletic director Vince McLemore. "She will provide great leadership to these young ladies. We had outstanding candidates, and coach Murphy just rose to the top of the list."
Murphy said she prefers to play an up-tempo style, with her team pushing the ball up the court and implementing full-court pressure.
But the new coach, who will hold tryouts in the second week of May, is quick to spout out numerous playing variations to fit the talent on her team.
"If we have strong posts, I'll probably play a two-post offense, and if we have strong guards, I'll play a four out, one in," Murphy said.
Murphy's basketball journey began when she was in fourth grade when she started playing the game with her five brothers.
She didn't play organized ball until sixth grade, and went on to play in college at Ole Miss from 1998-2001.
As a Lady Rebel, Murphy started 51 games and earned the Arthur Ashe Jr. Award and was selected to the All-SEC Academic Team.
"I just love everything about (basketball)," Murphy said. "It teaches you discipline, how to get along with people and leadership skills. Basketball has provided great opportunities for me. I was able to get my education paid for through basketball and travel a lot. I enjoy sharing what I've learned with younger players."
The Lady Wildcats have been under the able guidance of Donald Shirley for the past 14 seasons.
Shirley leaves the Lady Wildcats with 496 career wins, and he guided Meridian High to four South State championships and one North State title. Meridian High reached three Class 5A State Championship tournaments under the departing coach.
"It is going to be difficult," Harris said of Murphy following Shirley. "I think she will compliment what (Shirley) has left behind and built in the last 14 years."
Meridian High posted a 23-8 record last season, but stumbled in the opening round of the Division 4-5A playoffs, losing to Brandon in the opening round.
The Lady Wildcats should return up to eight players from last year's team. Murphy, who has visited Meridian four times during the hiring process, said she has gotten to know the players a little and is looking forward to trying to continue the program's winning tradition.
"I know coach Shirley has done a great job with the program, and he has established that the girls are contenders every year," Murphy said. "I've met with (the team) a couple of times, and I've gotten pretty familiar with them."