Ensworth takes aim at rare championship trifecta

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 11:09pm

Late this week, Ensworth High will try to enter some very rarified heights in Tennessee high school sports.

With the Division II state football championship it won in December already in the books, the Tigers are looking toward adding two more significant pieces of shiny hardware to their collection.

With sectional wins Friday, both Ensworth girls and boys basketball teams qualified for the state DII-AA Final Four this week. That means the school has a chance for three TSSAA major titles in one school year, something that hasn’t been done in 50 years.

With two wins each by the basketball teams this week in the tournament at Lipscomb, the school can add two more state title banners to the 10 already hanging in the rafters of the school gym. Oh, and the Tigers won the DII state volleyball title in October.

Both Ensworth teams are accustomed to winning championships. The girls won crowns in 2008 and 2010 and the boys won in 2009 and 2011.

They just haven’t doubled up — yet.

The last time a Tennessee school won the boys and girls basketball state championships in the same year was 1984, when Chattanooga Brainerd claimed the titles in Class AAA. Unbeaten Bradley Central won the mythical state football title in 1961, then won both girls and basketball crowns in 1962.

Last year, Franklin Road Academy won the DII-A girls state championship and the boys were runners-up at the state tournament.

“That [winning both] would be nice,” boys coach Ricky Bowers said just after his Tigers (22-6) held off a spirited Battle Ground Academy team in sectionals. “But we’re just trying to improve a little each practice, each game. It will be nice not to play for four more days [until Friday’s semifinal contest].”

Mr. Basketball finalist Corn Elder rifled in 30 points in his team’s 78-71 win over the fired up Wildcats. And guard Will Downey scored 12, bombing in two more 3-point field goals, which him 91 for the season, second best in Nashville.

“We’ve come so far,” Downey, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound sharpshooter, who last week committed to the University of the South in Sewanee, said. “At the beginning of the season, everyone was telling us it was going to be a rebuilding year. But all our guys put in the extra work ever since last summer, and we were all determined to make it back to state. And we did.”

During the game, a huge sign with Downey’s likeness on it was displayed in the crowd, similar to those seen during college games on ESPN.

“That’s my aunt [with the sign],” he said. “She’s crazy, but she’s a huge fan.”

After a semifinal appearance last year, Ensworth’s girls (21-6) are trying to get back to the top of the heap.

They showed a relentless, fierce attack in their 59-30 sectional blowout of Brentwood Academy, which included the return of Justine Swett, who had been out since December with a knee injury.

Kennesha Nichols scored 14 and Swett added 12.

“Getting [Swett] back was huge,” coach Hubie Smith said “With her in there, you can just see the confidence go up with the rest of the team. We lost three of our first four games when we had some early problems with the injuries.

“You can see our level of play go up. It takes a huge load off our offensive burden.”

The momentum created winning the Franklin Road Academy tournament in December fueled a surge during which the Tigers have won 18 of their last 20 after a 3-4 start.

Asked about the possibility of doubling up this week, Smith said, “We’re not even thinking about that. All I know is we’re playing a very good team Friday [in the semifinals], and that’s what we’re focused on.”