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John Essex prepares for area clash with SWHS

JEFFERSON — John Essex head coach Rodney Dixon is anxiously awaiting his team’s return to the court Friday night in Sweet Water.

“I don’t see any other things to do,” Dixon said. “I’m waiting on the jump ball.”

His Hornets have not played a game since Dec. 29 when they lost to Demopolis in the Choctaw County Classic.

That game concluded a four-day stretch in which John Essex faced three teams from higher classifications.

Dixon said he believed the venture into such a level of competition will serve his team well as it heads into the second half of its area schedule.

“I think we are at the top of our game right now because of the level of competition we’ve been facing,” Dixon said.

The first-year head coach said that the break came at the perfect time for his team, which sustained a slew of minor injuries over its weekend of play against Demopolis, Dallas County and Francis Marion.

Shortly after the break started, the Hornets began enduring more than just physical injuries.

“It’s done a lot of good,” Dixon said of the break.

“We had one player lose a father during that period. I lost a niece. The team has been through a lot.”

Aside from coping with its physical and emotional bruises, Dixon said the team has focused largely on conditioning as it has prepared to return to the floor.

“We’ve been doing two miles of conditioning every day,” Dixon said.

According to Dixon, the benefits of that conditioning should begin to reveal itself as early as Friday night in Sweet Water.

“We’ve been doing a whole lot of conditioning,” Dixon said. “Sweet Water was in great shape last time we played them. They ran the floor a lot.”

The teams originally met on Dec. 19. That affair ended with a 68-66 JEHS win after senior Zackary Fluker connected on a runner with only seconds to go.

The John Essex senior scored 14 of his 21 points in that contest during the fourth quarter.

The Hornets also got 14 points and 15 rebounds from Preston Parker.

Dixon knows that he will need similar numbers from those players Friday if John Essex is to keep pace in the four-team race that has come to characterize Class 1A, Area 5.

“The second half for us is the second half of the area,” Dixon, whose team has played each of its area foes once already this season, said.

The Hornets sit at 3-1 in area play and are currently all alone atop the standings.

“I’m putting a sense of urgency on this. We started off great,” Dixon said.

His team will now face the task of playing three of its four remaining area games on the road.

“We talked about me not yelling so much at the guys and letting them play ball,” Dixon said.

The Hornets trip to Sweet Water will start a run in which the team will play three area games away from home in only seven days.

Dixon said that in order for his team to be successful during that run, it will need to start off with a win over the Bulldogs.

“They did great at the free throw line last time, so we’re going to try to limit the fouls,” Dixon said of the Bulldogs.

According to him, the Hornets will also have a slightly different look as they have spent a considerable amount of time working to correct some of the issues that have plagued them thus far.

“We’ve been working on breaking the press,” Dixon said. “The defensive intensity is so good that it’s scary. We’re ready to come out and play a hard-nosed game.”