When Bradley Central’s Bearettes take the Murphy Center court in Murfreesboro Wednesday, it will mark the 27th appearance by the storied program in a TSSAA state tournament.
Making the team’s first back-to-back appearances since legendary coach Jim Smiddy’s 1986 and 87 squads, led by Wichita State University head coach Jody Adams, the current Bearettes have earned their spot among the top teams in the near century-old school’s history.
“It’s hard to compare teams from year-to-year because you have so many player changes, but I feel like this team has done some amazing things,” declared head coach Jason Reuter, who is 114-16 (87.7 winning percentage) while leading the current Bearettes to four straight District 5-AAA and Region 3-AAA titles.
Taking a 26-5 record into this year’s BlueCross Basketball Championships, Bradley will begin what it hopes is a run to the program’s sixth state title Wednesday with a 12:30 (11:30 CST) game against seventh-ranked Memphis Ridgeway (28-3), which is making its first state field appearance in nine years.
Fourth-ranked Morristown-West (30-3) will battle Rossview (28-3) in Wednesday’s opener, with the winner to face the Bradley/Ridgeway victor Friday at 11 a.m. (10 CST) in the semifinals.
On the other end of the bracket, nationally top-ranked Blackman (31-1) will battle with Houston (26-7) right after the Bearettes’ game Wednesday, while third-ranked Mount Juliet (29-1) will tangle with Jefferson County (27-11) to wrap up the Class AAA opening round. Highly favored Blackman and Mount Juliet would meet in the other semifinal game Friday, should they win their openers.
The Class AAA state championship game will tip off Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. (2 CST).
This year’s Bearette squad is led by senior “Twin Towers” Brooke Copeland and Rebecca Reuter, both of whom have signed NCAA Division I scholarship offers.
Copeland is leading the team in scoring and rebounding with an average 21 points and 9.8 caroms per outing, while handing out 69 assists, blocking 55 shots and copping 50 steals in the first 29 games.
The 6-foot-2 University of Florida signee is hitting almost 50 percent (197-of-395) from the two-point area, plus has made better than 77 percent (166-of-214) of her free-throw attempts. Her 2,211 career points total is just 10 shy of Jackie Pickel, a 2006 graduate who is in eighth place on the Bearette all-time scoring list.
Reuter is 16th on the program’s scoring chart with 1,093 points. The 6-foot-3 Middle Tennessee State signee is hitting better than 59 percent (121-of-204) of her close-range shots, plus she is a 73 percent (85-for-116) charity toss shooter. With 14 3-pointers to her credit, she is averaging better than 12 points and nearly nine rebounds a game this season, plus leads the team with 59 blocks, and is second on the squad with 79 assists.
Junior Chelsie Summars has returned from two ACL surgeries on the same knee and has been in top form the past month, dishing out 85 assists and shooting 82 percent (19-of-23) from the free-throw line, plus draining a dozen shots from “downtown.”
Senior Mady Stallings starts on one wing and has netted a team-leading 24 3-pointers, while freshman Emma Kate Brown is right on her heels, drilling 23 long-range bombs while starting at a swing position. Brown is also averaging 3.26 rebounds a contest and is an 88 percent (57-of-65) free-throw shooter.
Senior Lyndsy Davis and freshman Halle Hughes provide punch off the bench, hitting 18 and 11 3-pointers respectively. Hughes has also handed out 59 helps, while Davis has dished off 35.
“Brooke and Becca have had great years, but we wouldn’t be going back to the state tournament is it wasn’t for these other girls,” declared Coach Reuter. “They have come together as a team. They don’t care who scores, they just have a will to win. They’ve been in some very tough situations but refused to lose.”
As a team, Bradley is averaging 60 points a contest, hitting better than 50 percent (478-of-941) from in front of the 19-foot arc and nearly 30 percent (119-for-407) from beyond it. The Bearettes are a 75 percent (403-of-537) free-throw shooting squad and average 31 rebounds and almost 17 assists a game.
Coach Smiddy’s teams of the 1960s and 70s are the program’s gold standard with five state championship titles — 1962 (37-1), 1970 (31-1), 1973 (25-1), plus the back-to-back undefeated national championships of 1975 (36-0) and 1976 (36-0). That team won 90 straight games before falling to Red Bank 36-34 in overtime in a girls’ only day game in front of the Red Bank student body on Feb. 2, 1977. Bradley made 14 state tournaments while playing the old 6-on-6 style during the those two decades.
After the TSSAA switched the girls’ game to the conventional 5-on-5 format, Smiddy took a half dozen teams to the state tournament, including three straight from 1981-83, as well as the ’86 and ’87 squads going back-to-back. He went four straight years twice in his career — 1964-67 and 1973-77.
After starting his coaching career in 1948 at Charleston High School, Smiddy took over the Bearette reins in 1957, going 1046-155. Although he coached both the boys and girls in his eight seasons at Charleston, Smiddy’s 171-51 record with the Pantherettes helped him set a national record for coaching victories with 1217-206 (85.5 percent).
After Smiddy’s retirement in 1993, Paul Cretton took over the Bearette bench, going 148-19 (88.6 percent) in six seasons, including a state runner-up finish in 1995. Amy Geren and Paige Redmond were both nominated for Miss Tennessee Basketball that season.
Despite going just 15-13 during the regular season, Coach Jack Harlow’s 2000 squad advanced all the way to the state semifinals behind the play of Miss Tennessee Basketball winner Brittany Jackson. The Bearettes beat Sullivan East in the opening round that year before falling to Memphis Hamilton in the Final Four.
Bradley just missed the state tournament in 2012 after District Player of the Year Caroline Smith got waylaid by an elbow in the region title game at Cumberland County and the Bearettes got upset by Lawrence County in the substate.
The Bearettes bounced back to down Blackman 55-46 in last year’s sectional game and return to the state tournament, but without Rebecca Reuter, who picked up a pair of technical fouls and had to sit out the opening round loss to second-ranked Science Hill.
With a renewed desire to finish up their careers strong, the “Twin Towers” teamed up Saturday night on the game-winning basket with four seconds to go, earning Bradley its first back-to-back state tournament trips in 27 years.