West Tennessee teams validated their tickets for a a journey east to Murfreesboro. With victories in the substate round come to spoils of heading to the Murphy Center, otherwise known as the “Glass House.” For many of these teams, treading the boards of Monte Hale Arena is a regular spring ritual. For others, this trip might be the first such endeavor in decades.
And for some teams, this is their last great chance. A lot of senior-laden teams in 2023 just might not make it back in ‘24. Irrespective of your veteran players or your Super Sophomores who enter the fray with a 30-0 mark, you are never guaranteed passage to the ‘Boro.
Former TSSAA executive director Ronnie Carter used to caution teams to stop and smell the roses because you never know if you’ll get back.
This year, there seem to be quite a few teams in our area who have made it back after successful runs last year. For example, look at 33-0 and No. 1-ranked Jackson South Side in 3A. I thought they were going to bring the gold ball back last year, the way the Lady Hawks played in the first quarter of the championship round against Upperman, I thought they were on the express lane to the gold ball. Upperman, however, changed its scheme and came away with the victory. The Lady Hawks will still have that bitter taste on their lips…or beaks, as it were. Meanwhile, Martin-Westview returns to the Dance, having won the Class 2A title last year. The Lady Chargers lost only one senior from last year’s team, so this crew returns almost intact. They enter the fray as the state’s No. 1-ranked 2A team. Given the fact that they have Kylie Alexander, Jada Harrison and McCall Sims returning suggests this team should have success for a number of reasons.
Harrison (Tasha Atkins) and Alexander (Crystal Hurst) had mothers that played on that 1996 Westview state championship team. Sims is the daughter of former two-time Gleason all-stater Kellie McElhiney and niece of former Miss Basketball from Gleason Ashley McElhiney.
The pedigrees are pretty good in Martin these days.
Gibson County, coached by Mitch Wilkins, will have something to say about who wins and loses in 2A. His Lady Pioneers knocked Westview from the ranks of the unbeaten. Wilkins already has a state crown on the Lady Pioneers hat rack, so this will be familiar territory for him.
Speaking of Wilkins, Mitch’s son, John, will guide McKenzie back to the banks of the Stones River for the second straight year. Last year, McKenzie, after not having been to the state tournament since 1963, won it all. So there are two gold tiaras gathering dust in the Wilkins’ household. The Lady Rebels had, perhaps, the toughest schedule in girls’ basketball this year.
They played South Side twice, Westview once, split with Gibson County, who was state ranked, split with Houston County, who was state ranked, and lost to Middle Tennessee Christian School, the two-time Division 2, Class A finalist. So it’s not like the Lady Rebels aren’t battle tested. Besides, McKenzie only lost one senior from last year’s team. This team has faced injury, adversity, a tough schedule to make it back to the ‘Boro and it seems to be peaking at the right time, as their 12 threepoint buckets in the sectional round attests.
Dyersburg, Dyer County and Riverside are other West Tennessee teams making the trek to the Glass House this week. It stands to reason that gold rush at MTSU could be very fortuitous for our West Tennessee teams.
But these teams must remember. Going to the Dance is a fleeting thing. It’s hard to do. Make the most
of it when you get there because it could be your last, best chance.
Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and the host of The Pressbox radio show, which airs 4-6 p.m. CT, Monday-Thursday on WRJB, 95.9 FM, Camden, Tenn.