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Lady Hilltoppers could be among state's elite in 2019-20

Douglas Fritz • Updated Mar 9, 2019 at 1:11 PM

In the aftermath of losing in the state quarterfinals Thursday, there was a reason to be very optimistic about the future for Science Hill’s girls basketball program.

As things stand now — certainly a lot can change over the next eight months — the Lady Hilltoppers are a top-five team entering the 2019-20 season. In fact, it’s not a stretch for Science Hill to have a goal of doing more than just making it to the Class AAA state tournament.

Science Hill bowed out of this year’s event with a 65-49 loss to Oak Ridge, forging a tie in the third quarter before the Lady Wildcats ran away.

In the postgame interview room at Murphy Center after the loss, Lady Hilltoppers’ rising junior Jeila Greenlee set the bar for next year firmly on Murfreesboro.

“We’re going to be here next year,” said Greenlee. “No doubt about it. We know what’s coming now. We know what to be prepared for.”

Here are four reasons why Science Hill can legitimately entertain the thought of taking one more step than the 2012 and 2013 state runners-up took:

No. 1

Returning players

The Hilltoppers will put two Division I-level players on the floor next season: Greenlee and Alasia Smith. With a one-two punch that good, Science Hill will start nearly all of its games with an advantage.

Smith is a 5-foot-11 rising senior who can terrorize opponents on both ends of the court. She is unstoppable at times in the paint with a knock-down mid-range jumper as well. She is a good passer and ball handler, active with her hands on defense, and can block shots without fouling.

The only thing she needs to add is a consistent threat from 3-point land. And watching her touch from trey country in the postseason, that should be a bigger part of her game next year.

Greenlee got better and better as the season went along. She has college-level shooting range with a nice touch, and she can pass, dribble, and play defense. The best thing about her is she hasn’t topped out, and should be even better getting to the rim next season.

No. 2

Quality depth

Science Hill has a lot of puzzle pieces, and they all fit.

Included in the mix is rising sophomore Nae Marion, who had seven points in the state tournament and looked like she belonged at that level. The sky is the limit for the impressive 5-11 post player.

Aliyanna Hill will return as a capable point guard and a key part of the leadership mix. In fact, she may be a bigger factor in the overall team success than what is revealed in the box scores.

Erin Egerbrecht is the type of 3-point threat who stretches defenses into uncomfortable shapes and allows Smith and Greenlee to do their things.

And there’s more to the story, including rising senior Lily Cullop and rising sophomore Jasmine Myers. Also, head coach Scottie Whaley said others are ready.

“We think (rising juniors) Avery Dotson and Peija Shay will be able to contribute next year,” said Whaley. “Caroline McLaughlin is a 6-2 freshman who played junior varsity this year. We believe she can develop into a good player. And we have a couple of middle school kids we think can contribute next year.”

Science Hill could be 10 deep.

No. 3

Other teams stepping back

Transfers can change the picture, coaching changes sometimes make a difference, and when kids improve a lot over the summer it can change the stature of a given team. But looking at the state tournament teams this year, Science Hill should be able to stand above all of them with the possible exception of Murfreesboro Riverdale, which graduates its leading scorer but still has two of the three Hayes girls returning.

Oak Ridge will still be good, but graduating Jada Guinn will be troublesome. Houston graduates star player Jayla Hemingway. Arlington moves on without 6-4 post Lanetta Williams.

Bradley Central should be strong again, and Mt. Juliet should be even better next year.

At the sectional level, Maryville should be strong again.

Depending on how things finish Saturday with this year’s tournament, here’s a quick look at a potential top-five ranking for November:

1. Riverdale

2. Oak Ridge

3. Bradley Central

4. Science Hill

5. Mt. Juliet or Maryville

No. 4

Coaching

Whaley did a terrific job with this year’s team.

Good coaches find ways to get their teams to consistently improve as the season plays out. Whaley did exactly that, with the best coaching job of his career. The region championship and the victory over Maryville were good examples of how Whaley helped this team soar with solid coaching strategy and getting the most out of his players.

LOOKING BACK

Science Hill finished with a record of 31-4 and had every reason to be proud.

“This was an amazing season,” said Greenlee.

Whaley said the team reached its goal.

“This was their goal, to get here,” he said. “They’ve been a joy to coach. They did a great job getting us back down here. We have a lot of talent coming back, so the expectations will be high for us next year. Hopefully we can stay healthy and do the things we need to do to get back here.

“Any time you’re fortunate enough to make it, you are humbled and blessed. The kids have done everything we’ve asked them to do, and we’ve watched them grow up and mature.”

But the hunger is there for more.

“I felt like we ended the season pretty strong,” said Smith. “But I feel if we played like we know how to play, we could have gone further.”

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