Tigerettes undaunted in defense of state title
On Tuesday night at Brentwood High School, the 2007-2008 Class AA state champion Marshall County High School Tigerettes took the floor, beginning the daunting task of defending the school's fourth state title.
Looking ahead at the upcoming season requires one more look back into time to their return to glory.
On Thursday January 24, 2008 the Tigerettes suffered their second of back-to-back defeats, losing 44-38 to Lawrence County. Two days before, the Tigerettes had lost a big halftime lead at home versus Lewis County, eventually falling 44-40 to the Lady Panthers.
Their record was 18-4 with was just two weeks remaining until the start of the district tournament and for the first time all season, they seemed vulnerable.
On Friday night in Centerville versus Hickman County, the Tigerettes came out more focused and as hungry as they had been all season, beginning a stretch of 11 games where they outscored their opponents 573-298, an average margin of victory of 25 points per game.
The eleven game winning streak matched their longest of the season, but this one was full of rewards, including the District 10AA title, the Region 5AA title, and a first round sub-state 62-41 blowout win over Bolivar in Lewisburg.
The game plan of taking one game at a time had worked, catapulting the Tigerettes to a return trip to Murfreesboro.
"Honestly after the Bolivar game we knew we had a great chance of winning it all," said current head coach Boyd West.
Opening night at the Murphy Center pitted the underdog Tigerettes against the number one ranked Gibson County.
Doubt turned to fright for the remaining teams in the field when MCHS completely destroyed the Lady Pioneers 74-45.
Next up for the Tigerettes was another top ranked team in McMinn Central. It was the toughest game of the year for the ladies from Lewisburg and they came away with a gut wrenching 45-43 victory.
Jessica "The Assassin" McQueen rained down a three-point bomb from the right corner with 1:19 left to play to give the Tigerettes the lead for good and they sealed the deal from the free throw line to earn a spot in the championship game.
A 14th consecutive win would give the Tigerettes the title, but standing in their way was a fast and talented Milan Lady Bulldog team.
Some will say that the rays from the heavens above, shining on the Tigerettes in their pre-game huddle was a sign that they were the recipient of fate's dealing.
Others would say that it was great basketball, and it was, both.
The Tigerettes had the 'look', controlling the tempo with a tunnel vision approach to every single possession. The first three quarters went back and forth, tied at 30-30, setting up just eight minutes of basketball for the Gold Ball.
They seized the moment and seized the shining sphere, outscoring Milan 14-5 in the last quarter.
With one second left, McKenna Moffett nailed a free throw and the clocked ticked to zero, setting off an on the court and off the court celebration not seen since 1980.
The celebration lasted just two weeks when head coach David Steely resigned his coaching position, citing personal reasons.
Longtime assistant and Steely's good friend, Boyd West became the instant favorite to take over the reins.
West did and every Tigerette to a girl was glad he did.
"We didn't want anyone else, it had to be him," said Lauren March. West had been there through the entire rebuilding process and knew every girl's on court and off court personality to a tee.
The transition was smooth and the Tigerettes began to re-focus on the upcoming season and defense of their title.
"It's been really good," said March. "We knew what to expect."
In 2008, March garnered District MVP, Region MVP, State Tournament MVP, and All-State honors. The MTSU signee is the cornerstone of a team that has all the parts; blending together to create what senior guard Kanesha McLean called a "sisterhood."
"This is a sisterhood at all times, said Mclean. "We are more than just a team, that is why we have reached where we have."
March brings an all around game to the floor with a dominant inside presence in the post, the ability to swing out and hit the three-pointer, a smooth and agile talent to bring the ball up the floor, and a tenacious effort on the defensive end.
"We are excited and we will be ready to play Tuesday in Brentwood," said March. "We have been waiting to play since the summer."
West knows how tough it is to defend March and said, "They are going to have to make a decision with Lauren, are they going to take their big girl and pull her out on Lauren where Lauren can take her to the basket or are they going to put a guard out their to guard her and that way when we go to some flex offense or motion, we will post her up."
Jakerra Simmons will not be the unknown partner to March in the blocks this season. Simmons made her mark and made it in a big way, rising to the occasion last season, especially at crunch time in Murfreesboro.
Another great athlete, Simmons can score on anyone, run the floor, and is one of the best defenders in the entire state.
"Jakerra may be the biggest sleeper in the state. She works hard and is a very great athlete. She can jump out of the gym; she can score, and can handle the ball. One of the biggest assets she has is she is very smart, a very intelligent basketball player. Jakerra is the kind of player that doesn't want the credit she just wants to win. The word for her is team player."
What the Tigerettes did lose was a trio of guards in Moffett, McQueen, and Danika Hopkins that will be hard to replace. All three are now playing on the college hardwoods.
The Tigerettes and West are a flexible group and will utilize a new strategy that is not so new to the players who will carry out the game plan.
"Losing the shooters that we did last year we are going to have to press and our defense will be our offense. We are going to push the ball more, we are going to be quick and play a more up-tempo game, more push, and a faster paced game. Also, a lot of the people want to see it, it is going to be a more college type game," said West.
Returning to full strength this year is Addricka O'Neal, who injured her knee at the 2007 state tournament. O'Neal can fly and she is the most tenacious defender on the squad, much in the mold of Hopkins.
McLean is a different player. What the senior guard brings to the floor is a highflying, up-tempo style that should flourish in the Tigerette system this season.
"She is going to run point this year," said West. "With her ball handling and as quick as she is and some of the moves she makes she will be able to attack the seam against the defense. One thing I told everybody is that when she is on the floor, when she has got the ball, always be looking for her because when she spins it looks like she will shoot, but she will dump it."
Artavia Bryant, who came on strong at the end of last season will be in the starting lineup this season and can hit the three pointer and keep up with the run and gun style.
The O'Neal twins, LaRhonda and DaRhonda will also get their chance to shine this season and each brings a little something different to the table.
Asked if Boyd West would like to win another championship, the coach responded by saying," Everybody wants a state title. Do I want one? I want the girls to get another one."
West added, "I have been fortunate to be in two great programs (Shelbyville and MCHS) and walk the ramp at the Murphy Center. This is not Boyd's team; this is Marshall County's team. I am fortunate to be coaching at Marshall County. We want to hang another banner at Marshall County High School."
The Tigerettes' journey is underway. It is a fresh journey, a new beginning, but to every player and to coach West it is a journey that will not be complete without another banner.
West has told his team, "You give me all everything you've got and I will give you everything I've got and we could be the first Marshall County team to go back-to-back."