Taking a look at the calendar, we are already flirting with the middle of February. You know what that means? Basketball tournament time!
For our West Tennessee teams, district tournaments begin this week. For a handful of teams, this journey through the post-season my lead to exciting times in Middle Tennessee next month. For some, this trek may end predictably in the district rounds.
Like Jim McKay once said to open ABC’s Wide World of Sports: “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
In 46 seasons, I’ve covered my share of thrills and heartaches during this time of year. Former TSSAA executive director Ronnie Carter always admonished teams, during this period, to stop and smell the roses because there are no guarantees. And he’s right.
Looking around West Tennessee, there are a lot of teams with high hopes and even higher expectations. Jackson South Side’s girls, who were 3A state runners-up last year, are firmly ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press. The Lady Hawks have been impressive this year. South Gibson is lurking in 3A at No. 10 in the current polls.
Martin-Westview, defending 2A state champ, seems to be on an express lane for repeat. The Lady Chargers haven’t missed a beat and are 25-0 heading into the post-season. Westview, essentially, lost only one player of last year’s team and is a heavy favorite to repeat in The ‘Boro in about a month.
But don’t snooze on Gibson County, ranked fifth at 20-7 and with a state crown gathering dust on Mitch Wilkin’s trophy case. Huntingon has emerged at 22-4 as the No. 7 team in the state and looks pretty good thus far. This team could be poised for big things in the coming days.
In Class A, defending state champion McKenzie has battled adversity and injury all year and has faced a brutal schedule. The 17-7 Lady Rebels are fifth in the current AP poll, but may be finding their stride, since Savannah Davis has returned. Don’t sleep on Dresden. The Lady Lions are fourth in the girls’ poll. Jonathan West’s team was close last year. Sometimes that’s all the incentive you need.
At 19-5, Trinity Christian hopes to make a splash in the Division 2 ranks. The private schools begin their state tournament a little sooner than the public schools do, so it will be interesting to see how far the Lady Lions go.
Looking at the 3A rankings, they are loaded with West Tennessee teams. Haywood County is ranked No. 1, Crockett County is No. 4, Fayette Ware is sixth, Dyersurg is eighth and Dyer County is 10th. There is potential for quite the log jab heading east in 3A this year.
In 2A, Gibson County is 17-6 and ranked No. 5 in the latest AP poll. In Class A, perennial power Middleton is ranked 1 and McKenzie is sixth at 15-5. The Rebels won the Class A football championship this past fall and would like nothing better than to follow that up by prospecting for gold in Murfreesboro.
Sacred Heart is the fifth-ranked team in Division 2 Class A.
When you get to this point in the season, everything is up for grabs. Everybody is 0-0. You never know what’s going to happen. I’ve seen teams, who were on the fast track to the gold ball, tumble before getting out of the regionals (1996 No. 1 Gleason falling to Lake County comes to mind). I’ve seen teams with losing records get all the way to substate and beyond (Halls girls in 1987 reached substate with four victories; Adamsville, with just eight victories, defeated No. 1 Bradford in substate and advanced to The ‘Boro, for example).
This is a special time of year. For most, it will be the last time they lace up the shoes to play organized basketball, so when it comes to and end things are emotional. So enjoy the journey. Stop and smell the roses.
Your team may be enjoying the sweet smell of victory when it’s over.
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 95.9 FM, WRJB, Camden, Tenn.