However, the possibility of a record season wasn’t even something discussed at the beginning of the season.
“It wasn’t a goal at the start of the year, but the teachers kept telling them how many wins,” Tolley said. “It seemed like we played better at the end of the season as the fans and the county joined in.”
With leading scorer Taylor Cox out due to illness at the end of the season, the Lady Longhorns (23-12) nearly pulled off an upset at perennial powerhouse South Greene in the Region 1-AA quarterfinals.
“The first game without her, we didn’t play well — but after that we played well against Sullivan East,” Tolley said. “South Greene, we really should have won the game. If Taylor Cox had been healthy, we might have played a few more games.”
Cox, a first-team All-Northeast Tennessee player, averaged 15.9 points per game in the regular season. Junior guard Sadie Stout averaged 11.3 points, while other leaders included Emmy Miller with 8.9 rebounds and Taylor Parsons with 8.4 boards per game. Senior guard Natalie Winters averaged 4.4 assists.
“They played together and they came to work every day,” Tolley said. “They changed the attitude up there where hopefully the young girls of Johnson County might dream of playing basketball along with softball and volleyball.”
For Tolley, it was a special group personally. Six seniors — Cox, Parsons, Winters, along with Abby Cornett, Tiffany Price and Hazlee Kleine — were freshmen when Tolley became an assistant at Johnson County. They were joined by juniors including Rhiannon Icenhour, Abby Lipford, Miller and Stout.
He noticed a big change over three seasons as the Lady Longhorns improved from five wins to 13 wins to the school-record 23 victories. He also praised the efforts of assistant coaches Garry Smith and Kechia Eller.
“I watched them grow and become better players,” Tolley said. “I saw their attitude change where they wanted to play somebody close, to this year they expected to win the game. When you’re at a place that hasn’t expected to win and then to see them accomplish that, it’s special.”
Tolley has a true passion for coaching, first from a personal level and then the mental game it takes to be successful. He’s most pleased seeing the accomplishments of the players.
“I like the interaction and relationships,” Tolley said. “It kinda keeps me young. Plus, you always have to adjust to different situations. You see different people step up and do things you don’t expect them to do and you’re pleasantly surprised. It’s just a challenge.”