MAHONE: Clayton State trying to enjoy the ‘journey’

Derrick Mahone

Derrick Mahone

MORROW — Clayton State has made this journey before, and that’s why Lakers coach Dennis Cox is taking a different approach.

As the NCAA Div. II’s top-ranked team attempts to make another run through the postseason tournament, Cox is more relaxed.

He wants to enjoy the journey this time around.

During the 2010-11 season as the Lakers won the national championship, Cox didn’t fully enjoy the journey until the title was hoisted and the nets were cut down.

“I’ve learned from that experience, and personally, I’m trying to enjoy the journey,” Cox said Tuesday afternoon as his team prepared to play Mount Olive in the first round of the Southeast Regional.

Unlike the last title run, Cox has some seasoned championship veterans to help lead the team. Four members of that championship team are still on the roster. Seniors Drameka Griggs, Kayla Mobley and Keona Dixon along with junior Shay Jackson will be counted on to lead the younger players.

“I’m depending on them to be the leaders,” Cox said.

Griggs, a former standout at Jonesboro High, says she is ready for that challenge. In fact, she is getting more pleasure in seeing the excitement on the younger players’ faces as they approach this journey.

“I’m seeing how the younger players are enjoying this,” Griggs said. “To me, this is normal. As an athlete, I expected to be in a position to be playing for a title.”

But she does realize that with a 29-0 record and a top ranking there is pressure. To reach the Elite Eight in San Antonio, the Lakers will have to be on top of their game.

And it starts Friday against upstart Mount Olive, a North Carolina-based college that had a surprising run through the Conference Carolinas tournament. Mount Olive defeated No. 8 Limestone College in the tournament semifinals en route to the championship.

Just before the Lakers begin practice on Tuesday, Cox warned the team that everyone is good and hungry at this point in the season.

Apparently, his team has been listening.

“Who doesn’t want to beat the No. 1 team?,” Griggs said. “With each win, that bull’s-eye on our back gets bigger. Teams are motivated when they play you.”

And surely Clayton State is motivated to make another championship run.

Derrick Mahone is the sports editor of the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at dmahone@news-daily.com.