The district coaches picked both the Bears and Bearettes to win the 5-AAA crown, while the area media agreed in the girls’ poll, but had Ooltewah slightly ahead of Bradley on the boys’ list.
Neither Bradley squad had a 12th-grader last season, but both are “senior-laden” for the 2011-12 campaign.
The Bearettes are followed by Cleveland, Walker Valley, McMinn County, Ooltewah and a tie between Rhea County and Soddy-Daisy in the coaches’ poll. The media list was a little different with Cleveland, McMinn County, Walker Valley, Soddy-Daisy, Rhea and Ooltewah, in that order.
In the boys’ poll, the coaches voted Ooltewah second, followed by Cleveland, McMinn, Rhea, Walker Valley and Soddy-Daisy. The media had the Owls on top, with the Bears, Cherokees, Blue Raiders, Golden Eagles, Mustangs and Trojans following.
“We’re excited about the season,” declared coach Jason Reuter, whose Bearettes went 27-6 last season and advanced to the TSSAA sectional playoff game in his first year at the helm. “We have everybody back, two of which have already signed college scholarships (Kayla Beavers and Caroline Smith with Lee University).”
“We lost to a strong Blackman team who had six seniors, in the substate last year, and that sparked us. This year we’re the ones with six seniors,” he related.
“We have no secrets. No surprises. Everybody knows the players we have. We have very high expectations,” Reuter remarked. “We had a great summer, playing 34 games without getting anybody hurt, and we got a ‘wake-up call’ from a good Science Hill team that lets us know we can be beat.”
The district welcomed a pair of new girls’ coaches as Mindy Kiser has taken over the Cleveland program and Jessica Stone has stepped into the head coaching duties at Walker Valley.
“We lost four starters, three of which are playing sports in college, and we only have one senior, but we have had some great team chemistry so far,” expressed Stone.
“We’ve hit the ground running. This team grew up a lot last year and I’ve been very impressed with their work ethic,” stated Kiser, who was hired the day before the school year began.
Coach Kent Smith has more wins than any Bear coach in history and feels good about this year’s team. “In my 16 years of coaching here I’d never seen a district race come down to what it did last year and it could very well be the same this year.”
“This group were the hardest performers in the summer camps I’ve had since the 2003-04 bunch, but like last year when the camps were done, 16 of the 29 players in the program went to football and we may not get them back until sometime in December.”
“We hope our football team goes all the way to a state championship, but that will mean we won’t get four of our starters until after we’ve already played three district games,” he expressed.
With everybody returning from last year’s 20-9 squad, the Bears expect to contend for the title along with Ooltewah, which has four returning starters from a 23-8 team.
Cleveland went 19-10 last year and won a three-way tie for the regular season district title before finishing second in the region and falling just one win shy of the state tournament.
“We’ve graduated 11 seniors in the last two years, so that has taken a toll on our depth,” commented Raider coach Jason McCowan, who went on to say he has the “least amount of kids” in his five years with the program.
“We have two really good returning starters but other than them, the rest of the lineup is still up in the air,” he remarked. McCowan did reveal that senior Caleb Hiddleson will miss the season after breaking a couple of vertebrae in his back near the end of last season. “It was misdiagnosed at first and he went ahead and played baseball, but now he is out for six months at least.”
All of the district coaches offered congratulations to McMinn County coach Keith Elliott for his team’s postseason run last season that saw them come into the district tournament as the No. 4 seed, but advance all the way to the state tournament field.
“After 29 years of coaching, to finally get there was a great experience,” the Cherokee mentor proclaimed. “We only have one starter back, but he’s a great athlete and we are looking for some guys to step in and help him.”
Walker Valley coach Bob Williams expects his team to improve after a disappointing 2010-11 season. “Last year we only had one guy returning with varsity experience. This year we have five. We’ve worked hard all summer and the guys have a great attitude.”
The Mustangs have no seniors on a roster that includes six juniors and five sophomores.
Practice can begin in earnest Monday with some Hall of Champions games planned for mid-November before the official start of the season on the Monday before Thanksgiving.