NASHVILLE, TN — There has been a consensus all this season that some of the best teams in the state reside in District 10AA. On the girls’ side, Class AA defending champion the East Nashville Lady Eagles and the Pearl-Cohn Lady Firebirds have split four contests, three of which were barnburners until the end. On the boys’ side, three teams have been either the regular season champion (Maplewood and Whites Creek), the district tournament champion (East Nashville) or the Region 5AA champion (Whites Creek).
With the season, now shifting to the state championships in Murfreesboro on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University. This week the Lady Eagles and Lady Firebirds will be in action for a chance to make it three straight Class AA championships for the district. Both teams have an array of superstars on their rosters. East Nashville senior Erica Haynes-Overton has been touted as the likely winner of this year’s Miss Basketball (named this past Tuesday after print time).
Haynes-Overton has been the “bell cow” for the defending champions. The ETSU signee has averaged 23.0 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.3 steals per game this season. The senior had to take on a heavier load than anticipated when junior point guard Kaia Upton went down for the season with a knee injury. Head coach Missy Donaldson had to then rely on a mixture of young players and veterans to help pick up the slack.
“I know Erica felt upset when Kaia went down but she started playing much better,” said Donaldson. We have relied on others to pick up the slack. Having senior leadership from Kyra (Trice) and players that contributed last year like Quentarra (Mitchell), Neisha (Woodland) and Markiah (Bryson) we persevered. Our freshmen had success and won the city tournament. They have made an impact in the playoffs as well.”
The Lady Firebirds are making their first trip to Murfreesboro since 1986. Head coach Kendra Bailey’s team has a solid starting five led by Troy University signee Janiah Sandifer. Point guard Shanta Shaw is arguably the quickest player in the state. Don’t let her 5’3 height fool you, she also is a great rebounder. She uses her quickness to get easy transition scores for either herself or twin towers senior Monae Mayes or sophomore Youbryon Chambers. Sandifer and fellow senior Shanice Nelson are sharp shooters behind the arc.
The Whites Creek Cobras are making their second consecutive trip to the championships. Last season they were one game away from making the finals falling to Chattanooga Brainerd. Cobra head coach Carlton Battle has a plethora of players returning from last year’s team led by 6’10 shot blocker Ruot Monnyong. Classmate Jaquan Brooks is a 6’7 jumping jack that gives Battle a formidable duo down low. Juniors Isaiah Bowers and Jacob Frazier logged heavy minutes last season. Frazier scored 27 points and had 15 rebounds in the state quarterfinal game. The additions of junior point guard Dennis Stallings, sophomore George Woods and freshman Dylan Wade has been key to the Cobras run.
“Our contributions have come from across the board,” said Battle. “Teams try to take away our inside game so we rely on our guards to score. Once they do that it opens it up for Ruot, Jaquan and Dylan. Jacob also has been solid on the inside. Our district and non-district scheduled has prepared us for this moment. Nashville hasn’t won the whole thing in a long time. It would be special for it to be two Nashville teams in the finals.”
Bo Hodges and the Maplewood Panters have dealt with adversity for the past three years. Hodges has propelled last year’s Mr. Basketball award into another solid season and the school’s first visit to Murfreesboro since 2010. The Panthers were upset at home against Marshall County last season to prevent them from advancing to Murfreesboro. This past Monday, the Panthers avenged a loss they suffered two years ago, to the Christ Presbyterian Academy Lions at the sub-state level. Hodges sophomore brother Bo Bo Hodges had a key steal in the waning seconds of the game and converted two free throws to give his team a three-point lead.
Bo Hodges and classmates wing Hassan Littlepage and center Deshawn Johnson were all starters on the team that fell to CPA. They along with senior Craig Blackshear, junior R.T. Wilcox and sophomore Jaylon Alexander give head coach Ty Wilson a solid seven-man rotation. Injuries have allowed a chance for Alexander to get important minutes in games. Now that everyone is healthy, Wilson has a great shot to winning it all.
“Our kids were ready for this opportunity and had a whole year to dwell on the loss to Marshall County,” said Wilson. “We had a lot of injuries to our core players that forced others to step up. We are battle tested because our district gave us a challenge night end and night out. I believe it it the toughest in the state. Then we didn’t play a cupcake schedule outside of the district. Even though we had our hardships, we are here now and I believe this is where God wanted us to be. I told them whatever their best was it will be good enough against CPA. They fought to the end and we came out on top. It’s a good feeling but we still have work to do.”
NOTE: At press time the Mr. and Miss Basketball had not been awarded yet. East Nashville’s Erica Haynes-Overton and Maplewood’s Bo Hodges were both up for the awards. Also, East Nashville took on Fulton on Wednesday. Check www.tntribune.com for updates.