Lady Rebels: Part III

Tournament time signals new season for champions

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By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

Everything starts over now.

The District 4AAA basketball tournament, complete with its revamped format, opens at four area high schools tonight, Thursday, Feb. 15.

With quarterfinal rounds for the first time taking place at higher-seeded teams, regular-season champion Maryville hosts eighth-seeded Sevier County, fifth-seeded William Blount travels to fourth-seeded South-Doyle, second-seeded Bearden hosts seventh-seeded Lenoir City and third-seeded Heritage entertains Farragut.

All tipoffs this evening are at 7.

Semifinals and finals are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 17, and Tuesday, Feb. 20, respectively, at Maryville.

Lady Rebel coach Kim Bledsoe is a fan of the new format, which does away with one site hosting four games a night during the early rounds.

"It makes it an even playing field for everybody," she said. "It’s going to take some getting used to, but, once we do, I think it’ll be better. We’re trying to get away from those four-game nights. Those were killer."

The Lady Rebels (22-5, 12-2) delivered an impressive run in sweeping to the regular-season crown. Senior forward Sarah Roberts, sophomore forward Bailie Roberts and senior center Jama Bowman form the core of an offensive attack with exceptional size and speed. Each member of the trio is shooting well above 50 percent from the field on the season.

The depth at guard is extensive. Abbie Harper, Meredith Niethammer, Kim Whaley and Morgan Cox, all juniors, are equally adept at big nights scoring. Defensively, the full-court pressure the foursome can generate is substantial.

Maryville’s versatility has made the Lady Rebels a tough team to prepare for this season.

"It’s really not by design," Bledsoe said. "That’s just the way they are. If Sarah is off, somebody can step in the post for us. If we’re having trouble on the perimeter, somebody steps up there."

The Lady Rebels are playing their best basket as postseason begins, but that’s no guarantee of a district tournament championship Tuesday night, Bledsoe said. The new format has also done away with the top seed receiving an automatic berth to the region tourney in a week’s time.

"We’ve always divided the season into three parts," she said, "before Christmas, after Christmas and tournament time. We have to understand everybody returns to 0-0 at tournament time."

William Blount’s Lady Governors drove that point home with emphasis a year ago. Senior and Georgia signee Angela Puleo uncorked a frightful scoring burst to carry William Blount from a third-seed to the tournament title, knocking off regular-season champion Heritage in the title game.

Entering postseason on another tear, the future Lady Bulldog recently became the first Blount County girls player in the full-court era, which began in 1980, to reach 2,500 points for a career.

"For the ones that were involved in that last year, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth," Bledsoe said, "and you learn from that."

Ranked as high as ninth in the state poll this season, Maryville is a team with all the necessary components to reach the state tournament in Murfreesboro on March 7. To get there, the Lady Rebels must concentrate on each night’s opponent — and only each night’s opponent — along the way, Bledsoe said.

"The big thing is staying focused and playing our game and not somebody else’s," she said. "We’ve been careful to
approach it (the season) in steps. That way you’re not shooting for the moon with nothing in between."

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