The West Harrison girls basketball team came up just short of its first state title in 2016, but the ride to the Class 5A championship game in Jackson was a special one.
That's why the Lady Hurricanes' coach, Otis Gates, is the Sun Herald Girls Basketball Coach of the Year and his star senior, Ameshya Williams, is the Sun Herald Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
This marks the first time that a girls coach and player from the same school have been honored in the same season since Bay High coach Debbie Triplett and guard Christa Reed were given the awards following an undefeated season in 2013.
Gates and Williams are also the first from West Harrison to earn individual honors on the girls side after leading their team to a 25-3 record.
Never miss a local story.
Williams was a dominant force at the center position for the Lady Hurricanes, earning All-South Mississippi in three consecutive seasons.
She averaged 24.6 points, 14.2 rebounds and 2.8 steals for West Harrison this season.
Williams put together her best year as a player despite receiving constant attention from the opponent.
"Her basketball IQ has improved," Gates said. "She understands the defenses a lot more with how she's being defended. She understands to get ball to open people when she's double-teamed.
"She's as skilled as she was when she got here. When I say she's more patient, she's a lot more understanding of I'm the first option, but if everybody is focused on me, I have to find the open man. She did that a lot this year. She matured a lot."
At 6-foot-3, Williams got better and better as a ball handler and showed incredible touch around the rim.
Williams' impressive talent helped her earn the attention of several top college programs in the region. She chose to sign with Mississippi State.
Holmes County Central topped West Harrison 58-43 in the 5A title game with Williams being injured on a hard foul just before halftime. Williams was hobbled in the second half and wasn't able to play up to her full potential.
The loss still stings for both Gates and Williams.
"It messed me up bad we couldn't win it," Williams said. "I couldn't play how I wanted to. Everybody played their role. Some players who didn't even know if they'd have a varsity spot, they still did what they had to do."
While her high school career had a bittersweet end, she's excited to join an MSU program that's coming off a Sweet 16 appearance. "I just want to get in school and try to make it to WNBA," Williams said.
Gates, a former head coach at Gulfport, assistant at Harrison Central and Pass Christian, was blessed to have the best player on the Coast on his roster, but it took one of his better coaching jobs to make sure the Lady Hurricanes got back to Jackson for a second consecutive season.
Junior forward Dwaynna Kennedy, Williams' sister, went down early in the season with injury, a significant loss for the Lady Hurricanes.
"I can appreciate where we came from," Gates said. "We started out pretty good. Ameshya's sister got hurt midway through the season. We had seniors that stepped up and stepped in and took over. We kind of changed the way we were playing because of having to put four guards on the floor instead of two post players and three guards. We changed our philosophy, made the adjustment and kind of made it work for us."
Gates' teams have progressed significantly over the last four years. The Lady Hurricanes lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2013, fell in South State in 2014 and lost in the state quarterfinals in Jackson in 2015.
"Offense puts people in the seats. Defense wins championships," Gates said of his philosophy. "I have a great assistant coach in Darlene Burney. I've been here six years. She's been here five of the six years. She has greatly improved the talent, greatly improved me as a coach. She does a great job."