ELLISVILLE, MS (WDAM) - Four Region 23 titles, five MACJC titles and a combined 206-36 in all nine sports sums up the 2016-17 season for Jones County Junior College athletics. It has been the year of the Bobcat in Mississippi.
"Everybody's saying it's something in the water," said JCJC head softball coach Chris Robinson. "But no, it starts from the top with our president, Dr. Jesse Smith and then our board of trustees and it goes on down to our athletic director [Katie Herrington], our coaches and then our kids. I'm just going to say our kids do a tremendous job. When they get here, they buy into what we're doing no matter what sport it is."
In his eighth season as head coach of JCJC softball, Robinson led the Lady Bobcats to a school-record 55-4 campaign and runner-up finish in the NJCAA Division II National Tournament. For the first time in school history, Jones County softball heralded the NJCAA D-II player of the year - Kelly Byrd - and pitcher of the year - Karli Perque.
Bobcat baseball fell short of defending its 2016 national championship, finishing with a 46-4 record and runners-up in the Region 23 Tournament. However, second-year head coach Chris Kirtland measures success by more than just wins.
Jones County sends eight sophomores to Division I baseball programs next season. Tanner Huddleston, Jonathan Parker, and pitchers Ben Stiglets and Logan Robbins are all committed to Louisiana Tech University. Pitcher Reed Michel is committed to play for Northwestern State University.
Fred Franklin, Erick Hoard and South Jones alum Mason Strickland will join Southern Miss in 2018.
"The number one thing we do when these guys come on a recruiting visit and we sit down with their families, we tell them we want to put them in a position to move on and do bigger and better things after Jones Junior College," Kirtland said. "We're not naive enough to think that this is the end for them. This is a stepping stone."
Bay Springs alum Bruce Stevens took a step forward in his basketball career, earning a scholarship to Ole Miss after an All-American sophomore season at Jones County.
The 2017 coach of the Bobcats, Rahim Lockhart, joins Stevens at Ole Miss as an assistant after leading JCJC to a school-record 29 wins and the program's second trip to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament.
The Lady Bobcats made their first-ever appearance in the NJCAA tourney, advancing to the elite eight. A program-best 30-2 record earned second-year head coach Missy Bilderback District O Coach of the Year honors.
"Jones already has a standard to live up to, as far as athletic program, of not only just winning but doing things the right way," Bilderback said. "Our kids all year competed hard, they had a great attitude, they gave their best effort. They certainly have set the bar high for the teams in the future."
Jones County women's soccer finished 15-2, capturing MACJC and region 23 championships before falling in the NJCAA District H qualifier. The men's and women's tennis teams round out the eight of JCJC's nine athletic programs that advanced to postseason play during the 2016-17 sports season.
Jones County's 206-36 combined record in all nine sports marks an .851 winning percentage.
In Steve Buckley's first season as head coach of Bobcat football, JCJC finished 6-3. Seventeen of Buckley's student-athletes signed with four-year colleges including defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw's commitment to South Carolina.
As Buckley enters his second year at the helm, he expects the state of Jones County football - and the rest of the athletic department - to continue its ascent.
"I said it a long time ago, Jones is a diamond in the rough," Buckley said. "But I think that diamond's starting to glitter a little bit. People are starting to know a lot about Jones County Junior College."