2007 Marshall County high school girls basketball preview
By Anthony S. Puca
The sky's the limit for the county's lady hoopsters this year. The Marshall County High School Tigerettes and the Forrest Lady Rockets have set the bar to the highest notch on the pole and they do not mind the pressure at all.
The Tigerettes (25-10) had an unforgettable season last year and came within one game of winning their fourth state championship, dropping the title game to Austin-East, 57-43.
Guess what. Everyone from last year's squad returns and they are a pre-season favorite to go all the way again in Class AA.
The Lady Rockets (26-8), 2005-'06 Class A State champions had another banner season, winning the district, the region, and going all the way to the state tournament quarter finals where they lost to the eventual champs, Gleason Lady Bulldogs 53-28.
Guess what. The Lady Rockets lost only one player, Kalah Mathis, and are pre-season favorites to go all the way again in Class A.
The Cornersville Lady Bulldogs have a high standard to obtain, but have a squad that is capable of going very, very far. "The sky's the limit for us," said first year assistant coach and longtime youth and AAU coach David Fagan. "We are going to beat some teams we are not expected to beat."
The Lady Dawgs, 14-15 last year, made it all the way to the Region 6A quarterfinal, where they lost to the eventual region champion and state quarterfinalists Collinwood Trojanettes by a score of 66-41.
The 2007-'08 Marshall County High School Tigerettes
(David Steely and
"We have a bulls-eye on our back this year," said Marshall County High School head coach David Steely. "Every team will be ready to play us this year. We kind of flew under the radar last year. That won't happen this time.
"Here's an old coach's answer. We will play one game at a time and focus on the district title and advance from there. I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but at the same time we do have Murfreesboro as a goal.
"This is the best team I have ever had with more talent and more depth than ever before.
Three years ago, Boyd (West) and I challenged this group to step up and get back to the level of Tigerette basketball that has 19 state tournament appearances. This group has responded and got better every year, I think they were better this summer than last year.
"The girls deserve all the credit; they are the ones that strove to get better."
Steely was also very adamant about the help he has gotten from West, his friend and assistant who was a part of five state championship teams in his time at Shelbyville and could be a great head coach in his own right.
"Boyd has meant everything to this entire program. Everything we have accomplished he is a part of. I could not have done any of this without Boyd; it is a family affair here. Since he has been here he has pushed these girls to another level of play," Steely said.
"I have been offered some head coaching jobs," admitted West, "but I enjoy my job here. David and I have been friends for a long time. I know my role, I try to bring some energy and I focus on the defense and assist David in anything he asks to make this a better program."
Tigerettes have no weaknesses
Lauren March, a likely candidate for Miss Basketball this year in Class AA, leads the Tigerettes as their tower of strength in the low post. March had an unbelievable season last year and has gotten stronger in the off-season, gaining twenty pounds.
"Lauren can do it all," Steely said, she is very skilled for a 6-footer. She hits the jumper, plays as tough as anyone in the low post, and can dribble the ball up the floor."
At the other post position is defensive stalwart Jakerra Simmons, who made the All-State Tournament Team. "Jakerra is our defensive specialist and is starting to understand how good she can be. She will guard the other team's best player and she will also score more this year. Jakerra really came on offensively at the state tournament last year, averaging 12 points a game. She is solid in her role, very solid."
Backing up in the post will be junior Andraya Tears, who played in 16 games last year. "Andraya has really improved and understands her role when she comes off the bench. She is improving on doing what she is called on to do."
Mieke Wallace and Stephanie Moore will also help out in the blocks for the Tigerettes. "Both Mieke and Stephanie have improved over the summer from their freshman year. They are still working on learning our system."
Talent abounds in backcourt
The Tigerettes are loaded, six deep at the guard position with McKenna Moffett, Jessica McQueen, Danika Hopkins, NeNe McClean, Addricka O'Neal and Cornersville transfer Lauren Reeves. Each one brings something a little different to the table.
"Our guards are all experienced and all know how to play," Steely said. "We have six girls that could start. It is nice to have three seniors who start at that position in McKenna, Jessica, and Danika. They all complement each other in some way. McKenna and Jessica are both great shooters and ball handlers. Danika is our stopper, last year at the state tournament she was the stopper. There is nothing they have not seen and nothing they have not been through together."
If that wasn't enough, the Tigerettes sport one of the most gifted athletes in the state in NeNe McClean. Steely beamed when he talked about McClean and said, "NeNe brings a different game to the court; she can do things other girls can't."
Addricka O'Neal, who suffered a serious knee injury at the state tournament, is back. She is not 100 percent, according to Steely, but has been released to play and is getting healthier all the time.
"Addricka has that instinct, you cannot replace her heart. She can go in as a defensive player and change a game," he said.
Coming over from Cornersville is Lauren Reeves, who is an experienced player. "Lauren is a real good player," said Steely, "she has a lot of experience and can give us some minutes to provide depth."
Rounding pout the roster are sophomores Artavia Bryant, Larhonda and Darhonda O'Neal, and freshmen Marina Harwell, Whitney Byrd, Allison Adcock, and McKinya Crawford.
2007-2008 Forrest Lady Rockets
The Forrest Lady Rockets won the title in 2006 when everything fell just perfectly into place. Many people feel that this would be the year that Robby Reasonover's talent-laden squad would win and they very well could take home their second championship.
The Lady Rockets made a successful return trip to the state tournament last year as defending champions and came up just two games short of consecutive titles.
"We already have two trips to the state tournament," said Reasonover, "and the expectations will always be there. These girls have instilled a tradition here in Chapel Hill as a state contender. It all goes back to the kind of people they are. They will try to do the best in everything they do and they are unselfish. They are just good basketball players.
"They make my job easy. When I ask them to do something they will go and do it to the best of their ability. I have played just a small part of what has happened here. When I began coaching I would not have thought in my wildest dreams I would be part of something as special as this. These girls have done this and now every little girl that comes from CHES wants to be the best.
"This is the kind of mojo we stole from Coach Becky Cheatham and the softball program here at Forrest. We saw their high expectations and their work ethic. A lot of the model that we have now is taken from that softball model."
Championship nucleus remains intact
Leading the way for the Lady Rockets again this year is senior Gaby Bussell, who Reasonover says will be the Lady Rockets force underneath and will be the go to player every chance they get.
"Gaby is the energy that runs this team", said the coach.
Summer Waggoner, still just a junior is a force in her own right, according to Reasonover and he said he expects her to take over the role Gaby has next year.
Helping in the low post will be Beth Hawn, who compliments Waggoner and Bussell. Hawn is a solid rebounder and scorer from the low blocks. Alyssa Gugger, a senior will also see plenty of action in the post. Reasonover called her an aggressive player who is very strong. Another senior, Kensie McKee will se some action down low also.
"Kensie will come in and give me some quality minutes when we need them," said Reasonover.
Lady Rockets go deep at guard
The Lady Rockets have a guard rotation that other teams dream of in Dakota Wesson, Ayla Young, Blair Foster, Bequi Bussell, Shelby Stinnett, Amanda Daughrity, Megan Porter, and newcomer from Shelbyville Alex Martin.
"Dakota is my quarterback of the team, she pretty much reads my mind," said Reasonover.
"I am looking for Ayla to have a big year. Last year she surprised a lot of people with her play at the end. Ayla makes it hard on teams to shut Gaby down in the post because of her outside shot. She made so many big shots down the stretch last year in those big games.
"Blair, she is just going to make things happen when she is in the game. She is a spark plug and her role is on the defensive end and to guard the other team's best player. She led our team in drawing charges last year. Blair had a bad shoulder at the end of last season, but is rested and back to full strength.
"Shelby is also a very solid player who is a great athlete. She brings that competitive nature as a pitcher on the softball team to our team. Shelby can play solid defense and knock down the shot.
"Amanda is a lot like Blair, a spark plug that makes things happen. Defense is her strength. I am really looking for Megan to step up and contribute as a junior this year.
"Alex has come in and made everyone better because we have another quality player competing for minutes. She adds another person off the bench and she can get the job done. Alex can be in there when the game is tight.
"We also have sophomore Taylour Allen who will be able to give us some quality minutes. Taylour is solid on offense and defense and can get the ball to the people who score."
Haley Mathis will see some minutes from Reasonover as well. He calls her "one of my leaders in the locker room."
"We are deep off the bench. I could rotate five in, five out and not lose a lick. These girls just all do their jobs."
Forrest is so deep they will run a full junior varsity schedule this year. Randy Tombs will coach the squad that includes sophomores Allen, Hawn, Stinnett, Lorrie Logue, Canaan Raines, Randi Tombs, and freshmen Jillian Blanchett, Anna and Christina Curtner, Maegen Gower, Megan Miller, Alyson Patton, and Kimberly Rochester.
"The best recipe for us in the past has been to take the season in three parts and evaluate our situation after each stretch," he said. "There is the before Christmas part where we may take our lumps because of the tough schedule. Then there is part two, where we have figured out our team and make our run. Part three means being at our best level for tournament time."
2007-2008 Cornersville Lady Bulldogs
Cornersville Head Coach Micah Landers has been at the helm for eight years and wants to have a program that wins consistently.
"I don't want three good years; I want to be a consistent program. Our last four years we have proven that we can play with anybody night-in and night-out.," he said.
The Lady Dawgs made serious noise last year and finished fourth in a district that could be one of the toughest in the state with Richland, Collinwood, Santa Fe, and Moore County.
"This is like a knife fight," Landers said. "If you come out of this district and this region people worry about you. There could be at least two teams from this mid-state region that could play with anybody from the east or west."
"Obviously, we would like to play for the district championship, but we want to finish one, two or three. I want to finish third or better, which would be a little better than last year."
The line-up for Landers
The starters for Cornersville will be seniors Sara Barnett and Brittney Dickens at guard joined by sophomore Sara Nelms. In the post will be junior Sarah King and Tori Wolaver.
"Sara Barnett is a kid that offers as much athletically as anybody we have," said Landers. Sara is a good rebounder, a good defender and is one of our leaders on and off the floor. We just need to get a little more offense out of her."
Dickens is a player that is very deceiving, said Landers. The first impression some teams get is that she will not get dirty, but she will.
Landers said, "Brittney earned my respect her sophomore year with her determination to make herself better. She knows her role and does play outside of that role even though I would like to see her score a little more, but she is fine in that role she plays."
"Now Nelms, she is an offensive-minded child," Landers smiled and said. "The difference with Sara now is that she is playing great defense and rebounding the ball. Sara can play some great ball and sees the floor great. She passes the ball better than anyone I have ever had. When the game is on the line, Sara wants the ball."
Trio in the post gets the job done
Starting in the post for the Lady Dawgs is junior Sarah King who is a hard worker and gives everything she has all the time.
"Sarah works hard in the classroom and on the floor and puts everything she has night in and night out," Landers said. "Sara went outside of the program in the summer to improve in the post and it shows. Physically, she is as strong as an ox and is shooting the ball with a lot more confidence."
Tori Wolaver will start alongside King and both Landers describes her as a natural leader who leads by example.
"These kids respond to her and they follow her because they see her do it. Tori has always been a strong defender and a good rebounder and in pre-season she has elevated her offense."
Kristin Fagan will see more than enough action on the floor. Landers said, "Kristin does more with less than anyone I have ever coached. She is smart, she knows all the angles, and anticipates everything on the floor. She lets those attributes make up for her lack of height and speed."
Coming off the bench in the wing position will be junior Abbey Holder. "This is the opportunity for Abbey to make an impact. She is very physical and has a lot to offer. She is strong and fast and once she finds her comfort level will improve as the year goes on."
Morgan Carroll is an experienced player that will help and, Kaitlyn Hunter, Lindsey Dalton, Shelby Brock, and Haley Fagan could all see some time as the year goes on.
Rounding out the squad for the Lady Dawgs this year are Jessica King, Courtney Cook, Alex Wolaver, Nina Endsley, Martha Brown, and Brittny Wheeler.
"The only spot that I worry about is the back-up point guard position. We really need someone to step up and take that role," Landers said.
Someone who has been around these girls and knows what they can do is first-year assistant David Fagan. Fagan has been involved with coaching this group of Cornersville players since they were in the second grade and he will bring some valuable experience to the bench this year.
"David has been involved coaching these girls for a long time and they have had a lot of attention paid to them and a lot of time involved," said Landers.
Fagan said, "I have coached every one of these girls since the second grade. This is a very special group of kids that work hard and compliment each other very well. We may not win the district or the region, but we will compete every night. We try to emphasize a nameless, faceless opponent and tell them that the only team that can beat us is us."