When the rest of the state has reason to take notice, Northeast Tennessee must have something special to offer.
Science Hill and Elizabethton’s girls basketball teams will meet tonight in the Hilltoppers’ gym, and there will potentially be five Division I players on the court. And it’s not just a talent showcase, this a game between a state finalist and state semifinalist from last season.
Science Hill reached the Class AAA state championship game each of the last two years, but still returns Middle Tennessee State University signee Gabby Lyon along with point guard Tianna Tarter — who can just about name her Division I ticket — and junior Keisha Gregory, who is certainly on the fast track toward high-level college basketball.
As for the Cyclones, sophomore twins Kayla Marosites and Kelci Marosites are already drawing interest from next-level programs.
Add it up, and it’s one of the best regular season girls matchups in the history of this area — one that will be repeated Jan. 3 in Elizabethton.
“It’s a tremendous challenge for our young team,” said Lady Cyclones’ head coach Len Dugger, whose squad reached the Class AA state semifinals last season. “To play a high-caliber team like Science Hill, which will probably be ranked in the top 20 in the nation, I wish it was a little later in the the year. But we will show up, play, and give it our best.”
Playing against Tarter, Lyon, Gregory and others will be a measuring stick for the Cyclones’ players, said Dugger.
“They have tremendous players,” said Dugger. “As competitive as Kelci and Kayla are, and even Sarah Bradley, they will take it to the highest level in terms of competing. They are looking forward to going against what we feel like are three of the best players around.
“Gabby is going to MTSU, Keisha is a very intelligent player, and Tianna may be one of the more underrated big-time point guards all across the country.”
Dugger said the coaching change at Science Hill shouldn’t cause the Lady Hilltoppers to miss a beat.
“I thought Coach (Darrell) Barnwell did an outstanding job,” said Dugger. “He’s succeeded by another head coach (Keith Turner), who in my opinion is even better — not taking anything away from Coach Barnwell. I think he will do a tremendous job.”
Sullivan South football coach Sam Haynie deserves a lot of credit for the performance of his team in Friday night’s 41-19 loss to No. 1-ranked Knox Fulton.
Looking at the final score, it doesn’t do justice to what South accomplished. The Rebels had possession of the ball, trailing by just two points midway through the fourth quarter.
Simply put, the Rebels pulled a Star Trek on the Falcons — boldly going where no team had gone this year.
Fulton had outscored its opponents 220-7 in the first quarter, but South led 7-0 at the end of the initial period. The Falcons had outscored their opponents 686-57 on the season, yet South was knocking on the door — just a play or two away from pulling off the huge upset.
Haynie did a solid job at South, coaching uphill most of the time in Class AAA. With an opportunity coach downhill in Class AA, Haynie led his team to a blowout win in the first round of the playoffs before the near takedown of Fulton — a team many observers said couldn’t be touched.
Yes, South did get upset by Elizabethton in Week 10. But the Rebels played hard and fought to the end, and they were defeated partly because the other team was well-coached, too.
Haynie should have earned the respect of Northeast Tennessee football fans with the depth of the Fulton effort.
Follow Douglas Fritz on Twitter @FritzBlitzzz.
Points of interest: Knox Fulton moved its season total to 727 points with its win over Sullivan South, just 21 shy of Greeneville’s all-time record set in 2010.
Greeneville has scored 649 this season, and will meet the Falcons in Friday’s Class 4A state quarterfinals.
Class 3A Upperman hung a 70-spot on Chattanooga Tyner, moving its season total to 649.
All three teams have a shot at a record-setting season for points scored.
Playoff odds: Here’s a look at who is favored, and by how much, for this week’s TSSAA Quadrant 1 quarterfinal contests:
Class 6A — Maryville by 21 over Sevier County.
It was 55-6 in the regular season, so the Smoky Bears have some gap control to do.
Class 5A — West by 7 over Anderson County.
Class 4A — Knox Fulton by 3 over Greeneville.
Home-field advantage makes a difference, but the Greene Devils have a chance if they can win time of possession by about 10 minutes.
Class 3A — Alcoa by 14 over CAK.
It was a blowout in the regular season, but the Warriors have hit their stride since that loss.
Class 2A — Knox Grace by 21 over Silverdale.
Class 1A — Coalfield by 14 over Midway.
Final picks record: 12-1.
Since 2010: 29-2 (regular season); 38-3 (overall).
Boys basketball games of the week: (Today) Elizabethton at Science Hill, David Crockett at Unicoi County, (Friday) Daniel Boone at Science Hill, Cloudland at Johnson County.
One of the more interesting games will be Crockett’s regular season debut, traveling to take on a seasoned Blue Devils team.
Meanwhile, Science Hill takes its first Big Seven Conference step against the Trailblazers.
Girls basketball games of the week: (Today) Elizabethton at Science Hill, (Friday) Daniel Boone at Science Hill, Hampton at Happy Valley, Cloudland at Johnson County.
The Lady Bulldogs and Lady Warriors renew their rivalry, and both teams enter with high expectations for their seasons.
The state individual wrestling tournament will split into two divisions in 2014.
Scheduled for Feb. 13-15 in Franklin, the Class AAA brackets will still have 32 wrestlers in each weight class. The Class A-AA brackets will have 12 wrestlers with four first-round byes in each weight class.
Area schools affected by the change are Elizabethton, Sullivan East, Sullivan South, Greeneville, Chuckey-Doak, North Greene, South Greene, and West Greene.
Wrestling season officially opened Monday across the state.
Shifting gears for basketball season, it’s time for the first Prep Top 10 of the season:
1. Science Hill 3-0
2. Dobyns-Bennett 0-0
3. Unicoi County 2-0
4. Elizabethton 2-0
5. David Crockett 1-0
6. Tennessee High 2-0
7. Sullivan South 0-1
8. Daniel Boone 1-1
9. Johnson County 0-2
10. Sullivan East 2-1
On the girls’ side of things, here’s the first look:
1. Science Hill 2-0
2. Elizabethton 2-0
3. Tennessee High 0-0
4. Sullivan South 1-1
5. Daniel Boone 2-0
6. Happy Valley 2-0
7. Johnson County 3-1
8. Volunteer 6-0
9. Hampton 1-1
10. Cloudland 2-0
(tie) Sullivan East 3-1