There's bad news for opponents hoping the departure of possibly the best Bearette to ever wear the Black-and-Gold would signal a downturn for the storied program.According to one coach, who knows …
There's bad news for opponents hoping the departure of possibly the best Bearette to ever wear the Black-and-Gold would signal a downturn for the storied program.
According to one coach, who knows quite a bit about basketball, that’s not going to be the case.
“Coach (Rick) Insell (of Middle Tennessee State University) told me the other day he thinks this team could be better than last year’s,” related veteran Bradley head coach Jason Reuter.
"I'm not sure I agree with that assessment considering how much we lost with Rhyne (Howard, the Gatorade Player of the Year and Miss Tennessee Basketball) graduating, we'll have to prove that on the court," he added.
Opponents won’t want to hear Insell's insights considering the Bearettes have won 65 of their last 67 outings, including winning streaks of 32 and 33 games, plus a Final Four state finish this past season.
“He (Insell) said last year our younger players were waiting and watching to see Rhyne do her thing,” Reuter remarked.
“This year (at the MTSU summer camp) he saw us play a couple of times and said our players were doing what 'they' can do. We played really well.”
Going to a pair of team camps at Lee and Middle Tennessee, plus “play days” at Bearden, Oak Ridge and William Blount, the girls in Black-and-Gold posted a 28-2 record in the month of June.
“The good thing was we were able to avenge both of those losses,” assessed Reuter.
“We lost by three (32-29) to Campbell County, which went 21-11 last year and has everybody back, at Oak Ridge and then we beat them by 22 (54-32) at Knoxville three days later.
“Bearden beat us by four (36-32) on their home court and then we beat them by nine (37-28) in Murfreesboro the next week,” he explained.
“The game everybody wanted to see was us and Riverdale on the Murphy Center floor, which was our last game before the (TSSAA) ‘dead period.’
“We beat them by 17 (45-28), but they lost three D-I players from last year’s team, plus they were without their big center. They’ve also had a coaching change, but the two Hayes girls (Tennessee Lady Vol Anastasia Hayes’ younger sisters) played,” Reuter said of the squad that has won the last three TSSAA state championships.
Bradley’s only departure from last season’s standout team was Howard, who is getting ready to represent the nation in international competition as part of the USA 18-under team at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship Aug. 1-7 in Mexico City before rejoining her University of Kentucky team on a trip to Italy.
“We know it’s just summer ball, but we had a good month with all of our players together and now several of them are doing well in AAU ball,” he added.
A total of 10 Bearettes are currently on the AAU circuit, plus the seven incoming freshmen all played AAU ball in their age division this past spring.
“With five girls in volleyball and another in soccer, plus the AAU girls gone, we only had six players show up for weight training Monday (the first workout since the end of the dead period),” related Reuter.
“Cambree Mayo (a junior guard) went to soccer practice that morning, then came over for the final hour of shoot around.”
Drawing her share of attention on the hardwood this summer has been junior-to-be Anna Walker, who has already garnered college offers from MTSU, Appalachian State and Lee.
“Several other schools are looking at her as well and will be following her throughout the season,” Reuter said of the 6-foot-1 swing player.
“The day after the (TSSAA) state championship game, she was invited to tryout for and made the Tennessee Flight team out of Murfreesboro (which is coached by Insell).
“They are one of just 32 teams in the nation that plays the Elite Youth Basketball League, which is sponsored by Nike.
“She’s in Chicago this week for the Nike Nationals playing against the top talent in the country.”
Reuter was in Louisville, Ky., when contacted earlier this week as his daughter Amelia and Bearette teammate Alexis Barnes are on the Tennessee Flight team out of Knoxville, which is playing in the “Battle of the ’Boro.”
“This is the tournament that was in Murfreesboro for years and then moved to Nashville the last five years. It is now in Louisville,” said Reuter, who grew up in Kentucky and was getting to visit family while on the trip.
“There are 600 teams in four age divisions here from all over the country. Many of them came in last weekend for the ‘Run for the Roses’ tournament and just stayed over. That way they can get in two tournaments in one trip.”
While his youngest daughter and Barnes will be juniors this coming school year, they are playing up an age bracket.
“Their team has one girl that will be a senior at Stone Memorial, so because of that they have to play in the oldest division, but they have been performing well.”
Four other Bearettes also play for Tennessee Select squads out of K-town.
Upcoming sophomores Jamaryn Blair and Anna Muhonen are on TN Select Silver, while classmates Jamia Williams and Alexia Jackson are on TN Select Navy.
“Muhonen has actually been doing double duty, playing on both teams at times,” explained Reuter.
Rising seniors Hannah Lombard and Anna Roberts are playing for Tennessee Force Elite.
“That’s Coach Ron Pankey’s team. He’s from Pikeville, but they practice at Rhea County and Bryan College a lot,” the Bearette mentor related.
Upcoming sophomore Ashton Estrada is playing for the Tennessee Lady Elite team out of Chattanooga this summer.
Reuter is also excited about the upcoming freshman group, which includes 6-foot-1 Syler Falcon, who is coming in from Collegedale Academy's middle school.
“She has a lot of natural ability with a big upside and fits in with our style of play,” the Papa Bear assessed.
“She wants to play college ball and wanted to come to a public school to play against a higher level of competition. She’s been with us all summer and is trying to get used to playing on this level.”
Another freshman who may earn varsity time is guard Ashlan Crittenden
“Ashlan has a little bit of a problem with her knees, not from an injury but just from growing, so she didn’t play in June. She’s going to be a force to be reckoned with one day,” he added.
Having posted a 233-29 record in his first eight seasons on the Bearette bench, Reuter feels good about reloading for another strong hardwood campaign.
In an unofficial preseason poll on Twitter recently, the Bearettes were picked third behind Riverdale and Houston, the two teams that battled for the state crown in March.
Fellow District 5-AAA member East Hamilton is also in the poll coming in at No. 8.
Falling between Bradley and the Lady Hurricanes are Bearden, Arlington, Blackman and Lebanon. Maryville, Beech and Stewarts Creek round out the top dozen.
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