Today at MTSU's Murphy Center, the TSSAA girls state tournament enters its second day and two more Nashville teams will enter the race for a state title.
Division II power Harpeth Hall (21-7) and Region 6-AAA and District 12-AAA champion Hunters Lane Lady Warriors (26-4) will both play today at 11:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., respectively.
The Honeybears, featuring Division II-Middle Region MVP, 6-foot-3 junior center Becky Brown, are making their second consecutive appearance in the state tournament, having never been to the state championships prior in school history.
However, the Hall faces Briarcrest Christian of Memphis, who currently is the top-ranked girls' team in the South and ranked number-eleven nationally, by one publication. The west-state cagers have compiled a 33-1 work slate on the hardwood this season. They won the first-ever Division II title in 1998 and lost in the finals the past two years to champion Girls Preparatory School of Chattanooga.
The Division II semifinal tip-off this morning at 11:30 against the Lady Saints will be the toughest assignment yet for third-year Harpeth Hall coach Chip Fridrich, the Division II-Middle Region Head Coach of the Year.
"Briarcrest is a special team," he says. "They have eight seniors who have won 120 games in their career. That's over 30 wins a season and they've been in the state finals ever since Division II play started four years ago. We saw them play in Memphis and we know what we're up against."
Harpeth Hall's Brown, who is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds per game, will be matched up with Briarcrest's Division II Tennessee Miss Basketball and Vandy signee, senior six-foot forward Ashley Earley.
"We play a special match-up zone and that's our forte'," Fridrich elaborates. "We're going to have to control the tempo. If the game's in the 30's we have a shot, but I know we can't run up and down the floor with them. We'll look for the good shot and we'll have to have scoring balance from both Becky inside and guards Margaret Martin and Nancy Sisk on the perimeter."
Briarcrest, with its lone loss to a ranked team from Chicago, downed BGA this past weekend 80-51, to advance. Conversely, Briarcrest beat Class AAA's Mt. Juliet earlier in the season by six points. "We watched film on that game and Mt. Juliet had opportunities to win that one," Fridrich continues.
"We scored 75 points this past weekend when we downed GPS. It was unusual to play a game in Memphis against a team from Chattanooga, but seriously, if we allow Briarcrest to score that much, in the 60s or 70s, we won't have a chance."
"We practiced against an AAU boys' team on Tuesday to try to replicate the speed of Briarcrest," Fridrich admits. "There are different things we worked on because they are a tempo-oriented team".
Senior Margaret Martin missed last year's state tournament with an injury. "We dedicated this year's run to Margaret because we wanted her to get a chance to play in the state," Fridrich adds. "We have two starters who played in the state last year including Nancy Sisk who as an eight grader, saw a lot of playing time filling in for Margaret."
"We 're trying to work every angle and I've had friends trying to hack into the TSSAA computer trying to change the game time so Briarcrest would show up late," laughs Fridrich, displaying his dry humor.
"Last year was neat in another way off the court. We don't have official cheerleaders, but there were 350 kids from our school cheering for us. Some of the girls found old cheerleading outfits from the 70s and different cheerleader outfits and painted their faces and acted as our cheerleaders. They won the TSSAA state tournament Spirit Award and that was special."
We played at 11:30 last year and if you can't get up to play for the title anytime, you don't belong here," Fridrich adds. "Anybody who know me knows how competitive I am. It's a special thing to get our two seniors back to the state, having never been before and now two years in a row. But this morning, we'll go to Murfreesboro to win."
District 12-AAA MVP, 5-foot-10 guard Ashlie Gilland, leads Nashville's Hunters Lane (26-4) into battle this afternoon at 4:00 against Morristown West in Class AAA action. Morristown is located 30 miles east of Knoxville and the Lady Trojans (30-4) feature All State six-foot junior center Kala Greene with her per game average of 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Lady Warriors coach Joanne Tribue is excited that this is the school's first-ever state tournament appearance. "I don't think its sunk in yet and in the back of your mind, you can't help but be excited, because competitively, this is what you play for