For the first time in a quite a while, Northeast Tennessee has two girls teams with legitimate reasons to believe they have a shot at a state title — something never accomplished this side of South Greene.
But for Science Hill and Elizabethton to even have a chance to reach that lofty goal, they must take care of business over the next nine days. It starts tonight with regional quarterfinal action at home sites, earned by finishing first or second in the district.
Included in the mix is undefeated and No. 2-ranked Science Hill — and listed at No. 22 in the USA Today Super 25 national poll — playing host to Seymour in 1-AAA. Also Daniel Boone visits Jefferson County.
In Class AA, Elizabethton plays host to Claiborne. The Lady Cyclones are 25-3 with two losses to Science Hill and one out of state. Also, Happy Valley is at Grainger, and Sullivan East plays host to Greeneville.
And in Class A, Cloudland is at home to take on Berean Christian while Hampton hits the road to play Cosby.
Semifinal action begins Monday at Jefferson County’s gym in Dandridge (1-AAA), Hal Henard in Greeneville (1-AA), and Chuckey-Doak Middle School in Afton (1-A).
In order to reach the state tournament, teams have to win today and Monday. A win in Wednesday’s championship gives a team home-court advantage for Saturday’s sectional, where a berth in the state tournament is at stake.
Here is the list of area teams, in order of their likelihood of reaching the state tournament (see region tournament predictions at end of story):
1. Science Hill — Despite having three key pieces to the state-championship puzzle, the Lady Hilltoppers’ will likely only reach the title game for a third straight year if they get a fourth or fifth player to do some key damage to any tough opponents.
The road to the regional finals got a little more difficult after Morristown West’s surprising loss to Jefferson County in the District 2-AAA finals. But the Lady Hilltoppers already own an 18-point win over the Trojans this season, although it was a Hall of Fame contest.
Science Hill would be favored over any team in the state except Murfreesboro Blackman — and that includes Riverdale.
Knox Bearden and Knox Farragut look like the best bets to emerge from Region 2, but it’s cloudy with Knox Powell, Maryville Heritage, and even Maryville still in the mix.
2. Elizabethton — The Lady Cyclones could have two heavy-favorite games before likely meeting Grainger in the finals.
The potential matchup with the Lady Grizzlies could be quite a battle between teams who have been ranked in the top three of the state all season.
Strength at the guard positions, and an improving post game, make the Lady Cyclones a tough team to score against or defend.
Knox Fulton and Gatlinburg-Pittman look like the best bets from Region 2, although it’s hard to count out Christian Academy of Knoxville.
3. Cloudland — Starting near the front of the pack, fading, and then returning, the Lady Highlanders once again look like a state-tournament threat.
The biggest problem is a potential semifinal matchup against South Greene. The winner of that game will likely win the region and eventually head to The Boro.
Cloudland has the talent and willpower, so it’s a matter of execution.
Grace Christian’s surprising District 3 title-game win over Meigs County gives it a path to the sectional. Meigs should still cruise through the other bracket despite a hot Oliver Springs team.
4. South Greene — Win a fairly easy quarterfinal, beat Cloudland in the semifinals, and the Lady Rebels have a really good chance at returning to The Boro.
5. North Greene — Two problems exist for the Lady Huskies. They would have to beat Cosby in a potential semifinal matchup, which won’t be easy. Then the finals would likely present either Cloudland, which beat North Greene by 20 in the district-title game, or South Greene, which the Lady Huskies would have to beat for a third straight time after two close wins.
6. Sullivan East — Still just a little bit in the building stages, the Lady Patriots need a signature postseason win to really get things rolling. Doing it against the No. 1-ranked team in the state would be a tall order for a fairly young team.
7. Dobyns-Bennett — It has been a long time since the Lady Indians have enjoyed serious postseason success, so even a bracket weighted in their favor might not be enough of a seam for them to push through.
8. Daniel Boone — It’s not crazy impossible for the Lady Trailblazers to reach the sectional because of their bracket. It would take a fairly big upset of Jefferson County, and then Boone would need a better performance against D-B than in the previous two meetings. Winning a sectional game would be a whole other animal.
9. Hampton — Always a scrappy bunch, the Lady Bulldogs can’t be completely counted out. But it would likely take three straight upsets just to get a realistic shot at the state.
Champion: Science Hill
Runner-up: Jefferson County