By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
Moving up came as no surprise to Lamar. Russell Christian Academy, though, didn’t expect the big jump the Warriors are having to make.
According to the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools’ preliminary reclassification list, Lamar is returning to Class AAA and the Warriors, who are undefeated in the MAIS 8-man league, are making the jump all the way to Class AA.
“We felt that was going to happen when we went down to AA,” Lamar football coach Mac Barnes said. “Our lower classes were down a bit and now they are on their way back up.
“We anticipated this was going to happen.”
It won’t be new territory for Lamar, that is for sure. While the Raiders have spent the past four seasons in Class AA — playing for the state championship in 2009 in their first season down a class — Lamar was a Class AAA team from 1996 through 2008. And while there were some lean years early on — Lamar didn’t register its first winning season in AAA until 2002 when Barnes, in his second season with the Raiders, guided them to a 7-5 mark — the Raiders have had plenty of success there.
All eight seasons, Barnes led Lamar in Class AAA, the Raiders made the postseason. That included a state runner-up finish in 2006 and a pair of state championships in 2003 and 2007.
“There’s still a lot of uncertainty about whether we’ll be in the North or the South,” Barnes said. “But even when we went down to AA, we continued to play AAA teams and we’ve played that for five or six years before that. It’s not like we don’t know what’s going on.
“And we’ve found out that AA is pretty good. It hasn’t been an easy ride and whatever happens, we’ll go play it and do the best we can.”
While the Raiders know what to expect in Class AAA, the move to AA will be completely new for RCA. The Warriors have played 8-man four of the six seasons they’ve had a program. And the other two seasons — 2009-10 — were spent in Class A where Russell went 4-16 total.
Still, Russell wanted to move back to 11-man. It just didn’t expect the move to include the higher classification.
“We have wanted to get back to that level, we just didn’t think it would be as a AA team,” Russell football coach and athletic director Nate Ballard said. “Basically, we’re a AA team by two more students. The cutoff was 92 and we have 94.”
But the Warriors do take success with them. Unlike their last voyage into 11-man, which came on the heels of consecutive 2-8 finishes, this time Russell enters on a high. After the first winning season in school history a year ago at 6-5, Russell is currently 10-0 and the top seed from Division 1 in the 8-man state playoffs that begin Friday.
Now, though, the Warriors have to prove themselves all over again.
“It gives us motivation and a challenge when we get into our offseason workouts,” Ballard said. “We’ve got a good group of rising seniors and sophomores that will carry us into that class and it doesn’t matter who it is or what class or what size, we’re not scared of anbody.
“We’re going to go back to work and get ready to compete.”
The other three MAIS teams in the area — Calvary Christian, Kemper Academy and Newton County Academy all remain Class A schools. The Cougars and Rams are currently 8-man teams, but the 8-man league is part of Class A for all other sports.