Tough season on the county hardwoods
It was a tough season for high school basketball fans in the county with five out of the six teams being eliminated in the first round of district tournament competition.
The exception was the Marshall County Tigers, who finished up a solid season by advancing to the Region 6-AA semifinals for the first time since 2011.
The low point of the year and a big shock to everyone was all three county girls' teams losing in the first round of their respective district tournaments, a setback that is believed to be for the first time.
There has been some speculation about the future of Tigerettes coach Jerri Henry after another disappointing season that saw MCHS finish below .500 for the fifth year in a row.
"As far as I know and no one has told me any different, I will be returning next year," said Henry.
Marshall County's 6-19 mark this year was its worst record since 2003-2003 when they went 3-22 under David Steely.
Steely and the Tigerettes would go on to win the school's fourth state title in 2007-2008.
"Of course I want to win every game, but this is process and I am willing to work my butt off to get back to where everyone, including myself wants to be," said Henry. "The key will be to improve the skills of each player at the individual level so we can improve as a team and I feel we will come together and make it happen."
In Chapel Hill, the Rockets finished next to last, but had a very inexperienced squad, unlike the Lady Rockets, who came in a disappointing fourth place despite having three starting seniors.
The Cornersville Lady Bulldogs also slipped, finishing 9-17 and did not make it past the first round of the district tournament for the first time in 11 years.
The Cornersville boys will be the only team currently looking for a new coach as Gerard Randolph gave up the high school position to take over the Bulldogs' football program.
Marshall County Tigers (18-11 overall) District 12-AA (7-3 second place)
Arnett Bodenhamer's coaching tenure started a little slowly at MCHS, losing four out of their first five games to start the season before the Tigers settled in to the new system and began to play well.
The Tigers finished off their non-conference schedule, winning eight out of the next 10 games, including seven victories over 3A schools.
"I was proud of the way the guys bought in to my style of coaching and our way of doing things," said Bodenhamer.
Bodenhamer's squad reached full gear in mid-January as the Tigers revved up their run and gun, steal and score style that resulted in four straight double-digit wins to kick off the district schedule.
"We started to get better as the year went on and the team really picked up the pace on the defensive end," said Bodenhamer.
MCHS ran in to its first road block of the season when they lost at Christ Presbyterian Academy (CPA) in a battle of district unbeaten, but the Tigers bounced back with of wins over Giles County and Page before being upset at Spring Hill on Jan. 30.
February did not start well as the Tigers lost to CPA in Lewisburg, setting up a huge game versus Cascade at home that would seal second place and a first-round bye in the District 12-AA Tournament.
Marshall County came up with a big 66-57 win over the Champions and they only game left on the regular season schedule was a re-match versus CPA in Lewisburg.
It was not to be as the Lions came away victorious and the district tournament followed the same script as the Tigers beat Cascade in the second round before losing 61-52 to CPA in the title game.
Bodenhamer's club came back strong, taking down Camden Central in the first round of the Region 6-AA Tournament, but the comeback season ended in a 93-64 loss to host Creek Wood in the semifinals.
"Every coach wants to win a championship," said Bodenhamer. "But I told the guys we made it to the best 24 teams in the state, a place a lot of other teams would like to be."
Chris Walker and Kacy Pleas are the only two seniors the Tigers will be without next season as the two-sport standouts leave for the college gridiron.
Leading scorer Malek Sain and his running mate in the backcourt DeAndre Brown head a strong returning group that also includes freshman point guard Caleb Fields.
Bodenhamer used as many as 11 players in games this season and it will pay off in the future as Tre Crutcher, Steven Dangerfield, Curtis Keiler, Darius McKenzie, Quavion Harris, Montrell Harris, and Keevon Maxwell are all part of a talented group that will also be back next year.
"Now we can say we are not new to this and people will not be surprised when they have to be ready every night to play Marshall County," said Bodenhamer.
Add in LMS standouts KJ Johnson and Wesley Walker and what you have is a group of Tigers that will remain at the top of the district standings for a while to come.
Marshall County Tigerettes (6-19 overall) District 12-AA (2-8, fifth place)
According to Tigerettes head coach Jerrie Henry, she has not had any conversations with either the central office or MCHS principal John Bush about her not coming back to coach next season.
Henry is determined to stay the course and try to get the Tigerettes back to prominence stating, "We have a lot of determined players here and none of us are happy with six wins, but this is a rebuilding process and we have to take it day by day, game by game to get better."
It was a rough year for the Tigerettes, who only won back-to-back games once this season and its only two district wins came over last place Page.
Kiya Morris led the Tigerettes in scoring, averaging 18 points per game for the young squad that was hurt by its lack of depth and experience.
"We were very competitive in a lot of games this year, but our lack of depth really hurt us in the second halves when we just got wore down by other teams running in nine or 10 players the entire night," said Henry.
MCHS lost just two players to graduation in Christy Pettigrew and Kemesha McFall.
The Tigerettes have a great nucleus returning to go along with Morris as center Alexis Ford, guards Tianda Hutton and Leah Hollingsworth and forward Sydne Solomon will be in the starting lineup, while Alli Hobbs provides some experience in the low post.
"Our development will be determined on how hard we work in the off season." said Henry. "Coach (Vincent) Yarborough and I saw some things this year we really need work on and we will work on fundamentals and get as many players as we can to play AAU ball, so we can get in the extra work on the court that is needed to get better."
LMS standout guard Demariae Ingram will add to the athleticism for the Tigerettes in the upcoming season.
"We had a lot of bright spots this year with Kiya, Tianda, Alexis, Leah, and Sydne and we hope that Demariae will add to our depth next season so we can get back to the level where we all want to be," said Henry.
The Tigerettes have won state titles in 1972, 1976, 1980, and 2008, all coming in leap years.
Forrest Rockets (9-19 overall) District 9-A (3-9, sixth place)
Forrest coach Wes Hobbs guided the Rockets to a district tournament title last season and a spot in the Region 6-A semifinals, but Hobbs knew coming in to the 2014-2015 season that the task of keeping the course was not going to be easy after losing three starters.
"We started the season with only five players who had ever stepped foot in a varsity basketball game, so I knew that youth and experience would be a challenge," said Hobbs.
As usual, the Rockets did play a pretty tough schedule with three games versus 3A teams, two 2A squads, and four times against teams ranked in the AP Top 10.
"I can honestly say we competed hard in most every game this year and it was great to see the team improve and gain that experience as the season progressed," said Hobbs.
"We made every effort to never make excuses and to play our hardest every night."
The Rockets lose five seniors this season, including leading scorer, 3-point shooter, and top free throw shooter Will Edmondson.
Forrest also loses its top rebounder and last year's District 9-A MVP Blake Leonard as well as defensive leader Colton Cook, Caleb Hogan, and Tanner Roberson.
"I think we overachieved at times, but then I think there were other times when we were so close, but just couldn't get over the hump to notch some extra wins," said Hobbs.
"We had several games where we would play a good half, but would make too many mistakes to get the win."
Hobbs saw many a bright side to the season, especially the opportunity he had to let as many as 10 or 11 players get a lot of court time.
Also adding to Hobbs' optimism was the influx of talent from a middle school team that went undefeated in league play and won the Duck River Championship tournament.
Jacob Jones, Austin Bailey, Corbin Brown, Noah Rumley, Tim Elliot, and this year's most improved player Donovan Murray return next season, while middle school standouts Dylan Jones, Daniil Yatskov, Ty Hengesbach, and Josh Meglis will be pushing the upper classmen for playing time.
"I think in the next couple of years, we will be very young and will have to work hard to battle with the more experienced teams in our district, but in a short time, and as our players continue to grow and improve, I think you will see a couple of very special Rocket teams down the road," said Hobbs.
"I can already see a scenario where several freshmen get meaningful minutes next season."
Forrest Lady Rockets (20-8 overall) District 9-A (6-6 fourth place)
Forrest coach Jeremy Jean has posted a 150-69 record in his seven seasons at the helm of the Lady Rockets and has won two district and region titles, while making one state tournament appearance in his first season in 2008-2009.
A loss to Wayne County in a sub-state game at Forrest in 2010-2011 was the last time the Lady Rockets advanced to the region tournament final.
This season was really two seasons for the Lady Rockets as they lost just three games before the New Year, but after the holidays, Forrest went into a tailspin.
The Lady Rockets went 7-5 after the break with their eventual demise coming with all five losses at the hands of District 9-A opponents.
"Looking back on this year, I really think that we had a good year, even though we fell a little short on our goal," said Jean. "I believe that we may have peaked a little too soon this year and that happens sometimes."
The Lady Rockets did win 20 games for the second year in a row and had only one double-digit loss in league play, but suffered three crushing losses to archrival Moore County.
"We were really close in every game and the girls always competed and played their hearts out," said Jean.
District 9-A was one of the toughest districts in the state with Forrest, Middle Tennessee Christian, and Community winning 20 games, while Moore County won 19, and Huntland came away with 17 victories.
"Our district was extremely competitive and will be for the next couple of years, the district as a whole only graduates 10 and we are losing four of those," said Jean.
Four big ones in Hannah Evans, Savannah Brothers, Sierra Waggoner, and Margaret Bryan.
Evans was the second leading scorer for Forrest, averaging 11.5 points per game and had 58 rebounds and 38 assists.
Brothers led the team with 33 three-pointers and averaged 10.5 points per game, while dishing out 46 assists and grabbing 96 rebounds.
Bryan was the enforcer down in the low post, hauling in a 103 rebounds, while leading the team with 82 personal fouls.
Waggoner came off the bench and had the highest 3-pointer shooting percentage on the team, making 19 out of 52 long bombs.
"We are losing four seniors that played a lot of minutes and did a lot of good things for us," said Jean. "It is going to be hard to replace them, but I believe that there are some girls returning that will rise to the challenge."
The cupboard is far from bare in Chapel Hill as the Lady Rockets return a lot of depth from a squad that saw as many as nine players get significant court time on any given night.
Sophomore Caitlyn Yost busted the 1,000 point scoring mark in three seasons and also pulled a season double-double, leading the Lady Rockets in scoring (14.4) and rebounding (4.8).
Kyleah Hengesbach looks to build on a solid year that saw her dish out 63 assists, grab 94 rebounds, while leading the squad with 59 steals.
"I feel that our program is in a solid place," said Jean. "The girls are wanting to work and get better and wanting to be coached and I am excited to get back to work in a couple of days after our mandatory dead period is over."
Forrest has a bevy of returning players ready to contribute in Haily Collins, Tamia Northcutt, Krista Chapman, Katey Harmon, and Emma Stacey.
The Lady Rockets will also get a recharge in the low post as FMS standouts Stevie Ray and Sydney Hill move up next year.
"We are going to be looking for some underclassman to step in and play some minutes next year," said Jean. "I think that we will have a little different philosophy on both ends of the floor, but they will be a fun team to watch."
Cornersville Bulldogs (2-22, overall) District 11-A (2-10, sixth place)
After making progress the last two years under coach Gerard Randolph, the Cornersville Bulldogs suffered through a disappointing 2014-15 basketball campaign, as they posted a 2-22 record while finishing sixth in the District 11-A standings.
Injuries to key players and a lack of height along the frontcourt proved to be the main culprits in the Bulldogs' demise. The season began with senior forward Jamie Crowell missing five of the first seven games due to sports hernia surgery while senior guard and leading scorer Tate Lowery suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee in the fifth game of the year against Richland.
A first team All-District selection as a junior, Lowery appeared to be in store for another big season after averaging 19.2 points in the first five games of the year.
The knee injury then caused Lowery to sit out nine of the next 12 games while his playing time was limited in several other contests due to safety precautions. Despite the setback, Lowery still finished with the most overall points (192) on the team and averaged a respectable 12.8 points per game.
"Injuries had a drastic effect on our season because we never got any chemistry going," said Randolph. "When Tate went down, it really hurt because he was a big part of our offense. We're a small school so we really didn't have anyone that could replace him.
Along with Crowell and Lowery, the Bulldogs also lose five other seniors, including second leading scorer Zack Smith (7.1 ppg) and starting forward David Looney.
Sophomore point guard Michael Allen is Cornersville's lone returning starter and will have to carry a greater share of the offensive load next year after averaging 3.8 points per game this season.
Junior forward Cody Caneer and freshman shooting guard Kolbe McMahon will likely join Allen in the starting lineup. Caneer started several games during Lowery's absence and is a high energy player while McMahon is a good all-around athlete and scored in double figures three times this year.
Junior forward Dillard Hatchett, sophomore center Austin Ridinger, freshman forward Brock Powers, and freshman guard Will Vanhooser are also candidates to start next season or see significant time as reserves. Cornersville has some talented players coming up from their middle school team that could see playing time as well, but they will have to adjust to the physicality of the high school game.
With Randolph stepping down to become the head coach of CHS' football team, the Bulldogs will likely have to endure some growing pains during the 2015-16 campaign under a new coach due to the youth and inexperience on their team.
Cornersville Lady Bulldogs (9-17, overall) District 11-A (7-5, tied third place)
With only three upperclassmen on their roster this past season, the Cornersville Lady Bulldogs took some lumps on the hard wood, as they suffered their first losing season in eight years while failing to advance to the Region 6-A tournament for the first time since 2004.
After losing 12 of their first 17 games to start the season, the Lady Bulldogs won four of their next six contests to run their record to 9-14 while finishing in a three-way tie for third in the District 11-A standings with Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Academy.
Cornersville's momentum proved to be fleeting, as they lost three straight nonconference games to end the regular season before falling to Columbia Academy in the first round of the District 11-A tournament to end the campaign with a 9-18 mark.
CHS coach Peyton Newton, however, believes brighter days are ahead for his young Lady Bulldog squad since they lose only one starter in senior guard Breanne Dunkleman, who was Cornersville's second leading scorer at 6.6 points per game. Freshman center Morgan Terry led the Lady Bulldogs in scoring this past season and figures to be the focal point of Cornersville's offense once again next year after averaging 14.9 points per game during the 2014-15 campaign.
"Our young players showed that there are going to be some better times in the future," said Newton. "We have to work real hard on our guard play. We've got to develop more ball handlers so we can take the ball to the basket and take some pressure off Morgan."
The Lady Bulldogs also bring back guards Madison Hopkins (Soph.) and Carson Coble (Jr.) while freshman Emma Mitchell returns at forward. Mitchell turned in a solid freshman season and was Cornersville's third leading scorer after averaging six points per game.
Reserve guards Carly Salsman (Soph.) and Taylor Powers (Fr.) are the main candidates to replace Dunkleman in the starting lineup.
Newton also has several players that could help along the frontcourt next year in junior Hope Taylor, sophomore Brooke Defoe, and eighth graders Gabby King, Sarah Beth Prosser, and Sydney Wilson.
King showed flashes of being a major offensive threat down the road and scored in double digits three times after being called up from Cornersville's middle school team while averaging 5.1 points over 17 games.
Having won five regular season District titles and five tournament championships from 2009-14, the Lady Bulldogs experienced a lull this past season, but figure to be a contender for the conference crown next year if they can find another consistent scorer to go along with Terry.