In 2004, the Unaka girls made their only previous state tournament appearance, losing in the first round. But, Rangers fans had plenty of reason to stick around Murfreesboro with the boys' tournament the following week. Their persistence paid off with the Rangers capturing the school's only state championship to date.
How far this girls' team makes it is yet to be seen. But, Unaka coach Kenneth Chambers likes the matchup with Wartburg Central, which won 40-37 against the Lady Rangers back on Dec. 21.
"They beat us by three points, but neither team played well," Chambers said. "They're a lot better team and I feel we're a lot better team than we were then."
Chambers knows his team is motivated for the 11 a.m. Eastern time matchup at Middle Tennessee State University. The Lady Rangers (27-9) opted to take in the full basketball experience and watch other games Wednesday instead of going back to the hotel.
Wartburg (23-7) advanced to the state by beating Cloudland 47-43 after rallying from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Unaka had beaten Cloudland 40-36 four days earlier for the Region 1-AAA championship behind a 15-point effort by Lexi Garland. The senior guard also had 14 points in a 53-45 sectional win over Tellico Plains. In that game, junior post Myah Parlier had 12 points, while Sarah Tipton and Savannah Tipton each scored nine.
Chambers believes others like Erika Potter, Sydney Markland or Cydney Forney could also play a pivotal role.
"Erika Potter has really played well throughout the tournaments and she has all the ability in the world," Chambers said. "Sydney Markland is a good shooter and she knows the role she has for us to win. Cydney Forney has the most ability of anyone on the court."
Unaka has played a 2-3 matchup zone much of the season, but that could prove difficult with Lady Bulldogs' outside shooting.
Chambers mentioned how freshman point guard Callie Johnson, Madison Holley and Hannah Hurtt can all knock down long-range shots. Sophomore Jacey Gouge is a player off the bench who also can be worrisome with her range.
"They don't have a great inside game, and they want to shoot the three," Chambers said. "That can be great, but we're hoping it's hard where they haven't been in this atmosphere. The only thing about that is we like to shoot outside too."
STONEY CREEK SUPPORTS BOONES CREEK
The Lady Rangers made sure they finished lunch in time Wednesday to get to the Murphy Center to cheer on Daniel Boone against Bradley Central.
Chambers is a good friend of Boone coach Travis Mains, while Lady 'Blazers guard Macie Culbertson and Garland played on the same travel team.
The moral support wasn't enough as Bradley Central defeated the Lady 'Blazers 56-27 in their Class AAA quarterfinal.
NO STATE EXPERIENCE?
The statement that the Lady Rangers no state tournament experience isn't entirely true.
Many of the players on the basketball team played on the Unaka softball team which Chambers coached at the TSSAA Spring Fling Championships last May.