At the District 5-AAA Media Day Monday at Redemption Pointe Church in Collegedale, no one questioned the Bearettes’ status atop the girls’ polls, as they were the unanimous choice of both the coaches and media members.
However, when it came to the boys’ rankings, 2013 TSSAA substate participant Ooltewah ended up No. 1 in both preseason polls, but five different teams got at least two first place votes in either the media or coaches’ ballets.
In the media poll, both the Owls and district newcomer East Hamilton received four first place votes, while defending district champion Walker Valley and defending region champ Bradley got two apiece. In the coaches’ voting Ooltewah was tops with three first place nods, while the Mustangs and Cleveland High each had a pair.
“It’s going to be another very tough district race,” declared Walker Valley boys’ coach Bob Williams. “We have several very good teams that are capable of winning it all, but on any given night anybody can beat anybody.”
While both girls’ preseason polls read the same — Bradley, Cleveland, Walker Valley, McMinn County, East Hamilton, Ooltewah, Soddy-Daisy — the boys differed quite a bit. Behind Ooltewah the coaches had Cleveland, Walker Valley, Bradley and East Hamilton, while the media went with the Hurricanes, Mustangs, Blue Raiders and Bears. Both polls have McMinn County and Soddy-Daisy in the bottom two slots.
In trading Rhea County (which flew to District 6-AAA in the TSSAA reshuffle last fall) for East Hamilton, both District 5-AAA races got tougher. The Lady Hurricanes have dominated District 6-AA play the last three years, advancing to TSSAA sectional play each of those seasons. With the school being opened just five years, the EH boys have yet to win a postseason game playing in the very tough 6-AA against the likes of Brainerd, Tyner, Howard, Chattanooga Central, etc., but they did go 9-5 in district play last season.
District 5-AAA Boys
Although he lost a half dozen seniors off last year’s district championship squad, Walker Valley coach Bob Williams feels good about the team he has coming back.
“In 28 years of coaching this is the most excited I’ve been to go to the gym,” he stated. “These kids work hard, they listen and they give it all they’ve got.”
The Mustangs have eight seniors for the upcoming season, including 6-foot-6 standout Lukas Korn, Austin Harwood, Logan Melton and Dustin Swafford all returning from playing significant roles in the rotation last season.
“We’re also expecting big things out of Brandon Crews, plus we’ll be getting Colton Morrow and Chandler Hunt back from football today,” related coach Williams, who is in his 10th year on the Mustang bench. “Jim Williams, a junior, has also looked good here early on. We’ve also got a couple of sophomores who we expect good things from.”
Expecting his squad to be better on the offensive glass and in the paint this season with four 6-foot-4 players on the roster, and two others at 6-foot-3, coach Jason McCowan enters his seventh season at Cleveland High.
“Kendrick Thompson is still our main offensive weapon and is on track to be a 1,000-point scorer, but I feel like we’ll have a better inside game to go along with his shooting,” the Raider mentor remarked. “We are having to replace several guys and we had a rough summer trying to put guys in different positions, but I feel good about what we have going into the season.
“We have five or six guys that are quick and can run up and down the floor, but then we also have some size so we can slow it up some when we want and play that way,” he added.
On the southside of town, there’s a new man in charge of the Bradley boys’ program. With 17-year coaching veteran Kent Smith taking a leave of absence, longtime assistant coach Chuck Clark takes over the head coaching duties.
“I’ve been here with Kent since he came, so not a lot is going to change,” Clark said in addressing the group for the first time as the head coach. “I am bringing back some of the old stuff we did when Kent first came here, and the kids are responding well to it.”
The Bears only have two returning starters and are trying to replace four-year standout Bryce Copeland from last year’s Region 3-AAA champion and two-time substate squad, plus Bradley has 15 of its 30 kids in the boys’ program still involved with football season.
“Taylor Bentley and Logan Cox are back (returning starters) and Daniel Clark, who saw a lot of playing time, especially toward the end of last season,” the new coach related. “We are looking for some younger players to step up and show what they can do.”
The Bears got some bad news Friday evening when projected starting point guard Baylor Terrell injured his knee during the football game. “He is going to Knoxville to get checked out, so right now we don’t know if he is going to play at all this season,” coach Clark commented.
Ooltewah lost four starters off last year’s team that won the regular season race and has Ben Snider as its only returning starter, while East Hamilton is in the same situation, having just learned the Vanderbilt football commitment Tre Herndon is not going to play hoops this season.
With a pair of NCAA Division I signees leading the charge, the Bradley girls are a “no-brainer” to claim their fourth straight title, but head coach Jason Reuter is quick to point out that other than 6-foot-2 “Twin Towers” Brooke Copeland (Florida) and Rebecca Reuter (Middle Tennessee) the rest of the roster may not include very familiar names.
“Everybody knows Brooke and Becca, but after them, you probably won’t know any of the other girls by name,” he remarked. “We have five seniors and a couple of juniors, but none of them have had very much game experience.”
The Bearettes are also in search of a point guard after last year’s starter Whitney Donaldson moved back to Morristown and Chelsie Summars has not been released by Dr. James Andrews after her second knee surgery in as many years.
“She’s going to see him today, but even if he releases her, it will be a month or more before she is back into playing shape,” coach Reuter related. “Her comeback is key to our success. She’s our quarterback. She’s the only true point guard we have on the roster. If she can hit her stride by Jan. 1, then we’ll have a good chance.”
Senior Mady Stallings will run the point to start the season with classmate Lyndsy Davis and junior Julia Gaither on the wings.
Nine of the 19 in the Bearette program are freshmen, including four who will dress with the varsity and two of whom will see significant playing time. “Emma Kate Brown and Halle Hughes will be our first two players off the bench,” coach Reuter declared.
Coach Mindy Kiser at Cleveland will have a new look this season with Grambling signee Nora Berry as the lone senior on the Lady Raider squad.
“We have 10 new players on the roster. We may not have as much talent and athleticism as we’ve had in the past, but we’ve got a lot of guts,” the third-year head coach stated. “We had a good summer as a team, and our junior class has a lot of experience playing together.
“Jenna Scoggins returns as our point guard and Nora (Berry) will continue to do what she does best, but we’ve got several other girls who are excited about playing and doing well,” coach Kiser assessed. “Hallea’ McClendon had a fantastic second half of last season and summer. Bre Ware has grown up a lot and continues to impress. Graicyn Walkup and Sarah Crump are coming along nicely.”
“I liked what I saw in Saturday’s scrimmage — a lot of heart and hard work,” she added. “This group is a joy to coach.”
Walker Valley returns some key players and coach Jessica Stone is excited about her third season.
“I’ve had this junior class since they were sixth-graders (at Ocoee Middle), plus these seniors have had me for three years and they understand what I want,” she related. “We can no longer say that we are young (three seniors, six juniors), but we are still small overall.”
The Lady Mustangs lost just two players from last year and will be led by senior guard Lyndsey Macon, who has signed with Auburn-Montgomery, along with three-year starter Jaclyn Griffith. Victoria Jones, Rebecca Beavers, DJ Mowery and Kathleen Alomar have all played significant minutes in the past.
The season gets underway Nov. 12 when Bradley will entertain Cookeville in a pair of Hall of Fame games, and the rest of the teams will follow shortly thereafter. The district tournament will be held at East Hamilton beginning Feb. 12.