• 63°

Former Wildcat living out a dream in NCAA Tournament

POPLARVILLE, Miss. — When 15-seed Jackson State takes the court in San Antonio, Texas, Sunday against 2-seed Baylor in the first round of the Women’s NCAA Tournament, one of Pearl River’s finest will be suited up alongside the Tigers. 

Jackson, Miss., native Elexis Peyton was a go-to player for coach Scotty Fletcher during her time in Poplarville. After completing her JUCO eligibility, Peyton signed with her hometown JSU. Now, the former Wildcat is set to join her Tiger teammates on college basketball’s biggest stage.

“It has always been a dream to go to the NCAA Tournament and play against Power 5 schools,” Peyton said earlier this week. “Being in the spotlight and on TV, it’s all very exciting.”

Peyton could have seen her dream play out a year earlier had it not been for COVID. JSU had claimed the SWAC regular season title and won its first league tournament game before the world shut down. A year later, the Tigers are once again SWAC champs and are looking to make noise in The Tournament.

“We’re going to represent for Mississippi. We want to represent the state, the city, the community — I’m from Jackson and live down the street from Jackson State. The support from the community is just amazing,” Peyton said. “I have faith in my teammates that we’ll show up, compete and play hard against Baylor.”

Peyton was an important player for JSU this season, scoring 81 points with 88 rebounds. 

Seeing Peyton represent JSU on the national stage is not only a dream come true for the former Wildcat but also her former head coach.

“When people mention Elexis Peyton’s name to me, I can’t help but to smile. That young lady and her family mean so much to me words can’t describe,” Fletcher said. “It was an honor and privilege to coach her and be around her for three years. She made a huge mark on our program and was a true ambassador for our institution. 

“She has won three championships while at Jackson State and now she gets a chance to do what every college basketball player hopes for and that’s to participate in the NCAA Tournament.”

Fletcher added: “The thing I will always remember about her career is she played her last high school game at Jackson State, retuned to play and represent her hometown and now she gets a chance to go dancing in the big dance. Wow — what an awesome story for an awesome young lady.”

Peyton learned a lot from her time at PRCC. Peyton got off to a promising start as a freshman before an injury derailed her 2016-17 season and forced her to redshirt the next year. As a redshirt sophomore, Peyton was a major contributor for Pearl River, averaging 9.2 points with 7.8 rebounds.

“Pearl River will always hold a special place in my heart,” Peyton said. “PRCC changed my life and made me grow up. I got hurt my freshman year and by going through that and having Coach Fletcher as my coach, they really helped me grow up and be a leader. 

“They molded me into a good person and a great leader.”

Asked what it was like playing for Fletcher, Peyton perked up.

“Coach Fletcher, that’s my guy,” she said. “Playing for him was amazing.”

Watching Peyton on the big stage will also be amazing. Wildcat fans can root on Peyton and the Tigers starting at 3 p.m. on ABC.