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Dugger learns how to adjust coaching style

March 10th, 2014 6:52 pm by Douglas Fritz

Dugger learns how to adjust coaching style

One of the best things in life is to keep getting better as a person.

At Elizabethton, they have a girls basketball coach who certainly seems to be on the upward incline in that area.

Len Dugger, who led the Lady Cyclones to the girls Class AA state basketball championship with Saturday’s 66-52 win over Knox Fulton, didn’t rest on the laurels of an already successful career. He changed with the times and made improvements as a coach.

Long considered a little on the stubborn side as a halfcourt-man coach, Dugger unleashed his long and athletic team as a 94-foot defensive presence this season. The Lady Cyclones didn’t attack with their press, but they made the other team work before having an even tougher challenge in the halfcourt.

When Science Hill head coach Keith Turner — a former player under Dugger — pretty much laid the blueprint for slowing down Elizabethton’s halfcourt offense, Dugger began tweaking and adjusting in ways it seemed he wasn’t so willing to do in the past.

It hadn’t been a matter of ego, but rather a holding to basketball beliefs about the best way to do things. This year, Dugger took off the gloves and went bare knuckle — even to the point of playing a zone for a portion of the game against Fulton.

To Dugger’s credit, his halfcourt-man defense worked against Fulton for a long stretch, even though some folks speculated the Lady Falcons’ athletic freshman center would eat it up.

Dugger has carried a long love affair with basketball. He got a burning desire that may have been sparked from a senior postseason loss while at Hampton.

It was easy to see his love for the game as he worked with seventh-and-eighth grade girls at T.A. Dugger Middle School some five years before he even thought about being a girls coach.

During the early part of his career, Dugger became known as an outstanding basketball coach. These days, he’s more known as a coach who cares about his kids.

The combination of those two things helped Elizabethton win a title.

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Basketball is a team game, so it’s really difficult to beat someone who knows how to get five people working as one on both ends of the court.

Elizabethton may not have been the most athletic among the 24 teams in Murfreesboro, but the Lady Cyclones arguably had the second-best team — and were likely the most well-coached unit. Murfreesboro Blackman arguably had the best combination of coach and players, but Elizabethton could have given the Lady Blaze a game.

Having said that, it reaffirmed the notion that this was Science Hill’s best chance to win a Class AAA state title. The two-time state runner-up Lady Hilltoppers handed Elizabethton two of its three losses, but missed the state tournament because of a poor quick-strike decision by an official in the regional tournament.

I challenged TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress with an e-mail after the ejection of Tianna Tarter in the region tournament. I stated a new rule should be in place that would prevent officials from being able to assess a second technical immediately to a player. The official should be required to report the first technical to the scorer’s table, and then report to the offending team’s head coach — prior to being permitted to assess a second technical. This would allow the player to cool down, and the official to cool down. The players’ teammates could guide the player over toward the bench, and the other two officials could protect the assessing official while he is turned to the scorer’s table.

Tarter made a mistake, yes. But it should not have cost her a chance to play in the next game.

One referee changed the course of history. After Elizabethton’s title, I’m convinced Science Hill could have beaten Blackman — not would have, but could have.

I’m calling on every officials’ association in the state to accept a rule change — or even propose it to the TSSAA — not just to protect the players, but also to give officials a chance to think through the moment and decide whether they really want to eject a player.

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Elizabethton was a team of many weapons this season. On any given night, opponents’ headaches could be delivered from 10 different spots in the lineup.

But the night-in, night-out constant source of production from Kayla Marosites and Kelci Marosites took this team to the top.

A pair of 5-9 sophomore wings, the Marosites are long, athletic, and two of the best pure shooters in Northeast Tennessee girls history. They let the game come to them, and still fill the stat sheet. They follow their coaches’ directions, keep their composure, and display confidence without arrogance.

It took something pretty special to get a gold ball for Northeast Tennessee, and the best thing about these girls is they have two years left to seek another one.

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As for having a shot at back-to-back titles, Lady Cyclones’ junior Sarah Robinson said it is within reason.

“I think we definitely have a chance to come back to the state next year,” said Robinson. “If we continue to work as hard as we did this year, there’s no way we shouldn’t be back.”

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It was neat to see the Robinson family experience the joy of victory. They went through the agony of defeat in 2013 when Elizabethton’s boys lost a big fourth-quarter lead against Corryton Gibbs in the sectional.

Will Robinson was part of that team, and he’s now playing for his dad at Milligan College.

Bill Robinson was in Murfreesboro to watch daughter Sarah help her team with 13 rebounds in the title game.

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One thing Dugger nailed was keeping an open ear to coaches like Richard Hyder and Eddie Carver. Those basketball veterans have served Dugger well through the years, and they’re the type of people who won’t say yes unless they believe the answer is yes. Every good coach gets critical help from someone he really trusts.

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Lost in the shuffle of the excitement over Elizabethton’s championship was the solid coaching job of Knox Fulton’s John Fisher.

His dad, Glenn, was respected as one of the best coaches in Northeast Tennessee girls history. And now John is trying to carve a similar notch in the Knoxville area.

With his two best players both in the freshman class, Fisher still got his group to the championship game. His kids battled tooth and nail in the semifinals, and may have lost a little physical steam for the finals.

When freshman guard Quay Hines showed what she can do by scoring all 16 of her team’s points in the third quarter — literally almost one on five at times against Elizabethton’s defense — Fulton became a team to watch over the next three seasons.

And if both teams stay on their current course, a rematch could be waiting at the state level.

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Music to the ears of a lot of local teams is the proposal to be placed in front of the TSSAA Legislative Council on Wednesday.

The goal of the proposal is a complete split of public and private schools. As it stands now, Division II houses all of the schools who give need-based financial aid. However, public schools are tired of competing against the private schools that can routinely draw kids from well beyond any city or county restrictions — places like Christ Presbyterian Academy, Goodpasture Christian and Christian Academy of Knoxville.

The change has been sponsored by administrations at Trousdale County and Lewis County.

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It happened midway through the third quarter of Elizabethton’s sectional game against Christian Academy of Knoxville.

Little did the Lady Cyclones know, but their state championship dreams were possibly crumpled in a heap underneath the basket. Point guard Sarah Bradley got tangled up with CAK’s Anna Hammaker, and lay on the floor with a shoulder injury.

By the time Bradley got up, she was holding her left arm up to her chest and crying from the pain. She was still crying at game’s end, and was taken to the hospital.

Many folks had the same expectations: Bradley was done for the season.

The X-ray image turned out to be a blueprint for a state title. A diagnosis of a simple bruise meant therapy would help prepare Bradley for the upcoming game against Livingston Academy, just five days away.

Elizabethton almost surely wouldn’t have won the title without Bradley’s senior leadership. She played like a champion every minute she was on the floor in Murfreesboro.

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Elizabethton was not only state champion, but the Lady Cyclones were the last team standing.

With the Class AAA and Class A games already in the books, the Cyclones won the nightcap. It allowed them a little extra floor time to make a nice video scene with the gold ball in front and fans behind in one corner of Murphy Center (available for viewing on Twitter @FritzBlitzzz).

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Dugger may need a cell phone upgrade.

His device was “blowing up” from late Saturday into Monday. He wasn’t even receiving texts until a day or so after they were sent.

As of Monday, Dugger said he had received over 500 texts from well-wishers around the area and across the state.

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One of the few schools across the state that doesn’t recognize the accomplishments of its teams is Elizabethton.

With the girls winning the Class AA state basketball championship, it’s time for a change.

Walk into Treadway Gymnasium, and you will not see a banner hanging for the 1938 state champion football team. There is no banner for the 2004 state champion cross country team or the state runner-up squads in 2003 and 2005.

There is no banner for the 1958 baseball state runner-up.

You will not see banners for the boys teams who reached the state basketball tournament in 1983 and 2004. There is no recognition for the five girls teams who reached the Class AA state basketball tournament over the past nine years.

It’s high time the Cyclones gave a permanent public acknowledgement of the accomplishments of its student-athletes. It’s history. It’s heritage. And it should be a source of community pride.

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A hot and stuffy Murphy Center for the girls state basketball tournament was an issue for many fans.

For $10 a ticket — plus parking and concessions, and $12 per seat for championship games — fans have paid enough to enjoy a comfortable environment.

However, the problem wasn’t something that could be fixed in the short term.

TSSAA assistant executive director Matthew Gillespie said his organization has no control over the heat/air system at Murphy Center, but a Middle Tennessee State official described the problems facing the 42-year-old Murphy Center — and its 42-year old heating-and-cooling system.

Heating and cooling for the arena is controlled by a central plant. An arbitrary date is used to switch from hot water (winter) to cool water (summer) in the supply lines. The switch to cool doesn’t usually happen until April, leaving Murphy Center and both the girls and boys state tournaments at the mercy of  March weather.

If the boys had been playing in their tournament today, with temperatures in the mid-70s in Murfreesboro, the arena would have been almost unbearable. Fortunately, cooler temperatures are forecast for Wednesday and Thursday.

There is good news: Construction is under way at Murphy Center. Shades will be put on the windows all the way around the arena. This will allow the university to control the amount of sunlight that enters the gym.

Also, the heating system will be upgraded and have the ability to draw outside air. That could impact the inside temperature by as much as six-to-eight degrees.

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Another source of complaints was the state tournament programs.

They dropped from 50-plus pages to 32. Some fans likely needed a magnifying glass to see the tiny rosters or team photos. And there was no year-by-year list of state champions.

Gillespie said a different design was used based on other associations’ product. Some, he said, have gone to not printing a program at all but having the information available electronically.

“We weren’t ready to do that yet,” said Gillespie.

Here’s one hope they never are ready. The state tournament is an event people look forward to every year, and the program is a souvenir part of it.

Who would take a screen shot of their smartphone and save it for 15 years down the road? It’s like Kingsport Times-News reporter Bill Lane used to say about radio folks getting better seats at press row, “Have you ever heard of anyone saving their radio clippings?” Lane would say.

The TSSAA needs to keep the special little things a part of its events.

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It was a non-animal parade of champions Saturday in Murfreesboro.

The wildlife was shutout, and the winners were all elements: Blackman Lady Blaze, Elizabethton Lady Cyclones, and the Union City Lady Tornadoes.

Hopefully the Murphy Center has good insurance after that assault!

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Prep signings: Elizabethton added a player to the college list recently.

Power-hitting catcher Caley Hodge, one of the area’s top sticks, made it official by signing to play at Emory & Henry College in Virginia.

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