But the Lady Cyclones’ championship, which culminated with Monday’s win over Sullivan South, was still a team thing.
First and foremost, the other players had to accept Bailey stepping onto the varsity level for the final two games of the regular season and becoming a standout player. Head coach Lucas Andrews said the transition wasn’t as tough as it could have been.
“I just think with our kids, there is nobody above the Lady Cyclones,” said Andrews, whose team will begin play in the Region 1-AA tournament Friday at home against Cumberland Gap. “They all bought into what we’re trying to accomplish as a team. We all have a job to do, and all of us have gotten it done. The girls do whatever it takes to get it done.”
Bailey played only junior-varsity basketball for nearly the entire season because TSSAA transfer rules forced her to sit out until the game against Sullivan Central on Feb. 8. Elizabethton played two games with Bailey in the mix, and then headed to Happy Valley for the district tournament. The Lady Cyclones entered with a record showing three losses for every victory (7-21), but beat Happy Valley on its home court before knocking off Central for a second time. Then they took down South, winning each of the three district games by double-digit margins.
Bailey was chosen as the most valuable player, and rightly so. But it was a title born of teamwork. And one of the best pictures was the play of Kaylen Shell in the semifinals against Central.
Shell averaged a double-double in points and rebounds throughout the course of the regular season, but Central’s defensive approach limited her offensive effectiveness. And while Bailey grabbed the spotlight with 25 points, Shell went behind the scenes and did the blue-collar work with 15 rebounds.
“Central made sure Shell didn’t beat them,” said Andrews. “But when they did that, it opened the floor for Kaitlin, Torrie Roberts and Morgan Headrick. And Shell still got two big buckets after offensive rebounds.”
It has been a long crazy ride for Elizabethton this year, including:
— Morgan Headrick, who had surgery and missed all of the team’s summer work, potentially faced an early end to her season after rolling an ankle in November.
“They were worried about the way she did it,” said Andrews. “It shouldn’t have happened like that. But they took precautions and let her ease back in. She has steadily gotten better, and she has done a great job defensively in the post. She held (Central’s Abbey Crawford) to eight points, and that’s hard to do.”
— Torrie Roberts, a steady factor throughout the season, was scoreless through three quarters in a close game against Happy Valley in the district. In the fourth quarter, she totaled 14 points.
“And what she has been able to do down the stretch when other teams needed to foul, we get the ball in her hands,” said Andrews. “She was the best free throw shooter in the area this season.”
— Cheyenne VanHuss has emerged as a legitimate threat from trey country.
“She’s a sleeper, and you could say that as a compliment,” said Andrews. “You fall asleep, she will knock it down. And the big thing about her is defense. She guarded (Happy Valley’s Adrienne) Henegar and (Sullivan Central’s Peyton) Sams.”
— Cassey Fowler and McKendra Norris have played key roles as well.
“Cassey comes in and gives us good minutes in post relief,” Andrews said. “She’s a very smart player. McKendra is quick and a great defender.
“Also, Abbey Townsend is solid. She works her tail off inside, battling and getting a ton of rebounds. Her stat line doesn’t always show what she does. And we have Jordan Owens off the bench, too. We’ve had a great focus this week, and we’ve really been excited about the execution we’ve had lately.”