All in the preparation

Lady Rebels play state's third-toughest schedule

By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

Ironically, Tuesday’s 64-61 loss at Bearden only enhanced Maryville’s status as one of the state’s top Class AAA teams.
The Lady Bulldog victory coincided with Maryville entering The Associated Press state basketball poll at No. 9 on Monday. Even with the loss, a case could be made the Lady Rebels should be rated much higher.

Maryville (17-4, 8-2 District 4AAA) plays the state’s third-toughest schedule in Class AAA according to CoachT.com strength of schedule rankings released Monday. The ranking considers the win percentage of a team’s opponents in determining placing. Only Hamilton and second-ranked Shelbyville travel a tougher road than Maryville according to the site.

The Lady Rebels entered Tuesday riding a seven-game win streak, including wins over league front-runners Heritage and South-Doyle. Bearden (14-7, 7-3) had won three straight, including wins over the same two teams.
"Bearden is a scary team right now," Maryville coach Kim Bledsoe said.

Complacency Tuesday did the rest.

"We were the way teams get," Bledsoe said. "We were a little lackadaisical in practice. I think we were primed for a loss."

That it came three weeks before the district tournament, an event Maryville will host Feb. 15-21, could prove more a blessing than a curse.

"Losses are not devastating unless you let them beat you down," Bledsoe said. "At this point, a loss could help us more than hurt us."

The loss at Bearden comes after the Lady Rebels rolled to a 62-44 win last Friday at Heritage. Bailie Roberts, a 5-foot-10 sophomore, keyed a balanced Maryville attack with 18 points, with senior Sarah Roberts, no relation, chipping in 12, fellow senior Jama Bowman 10.

The Roberts duo comprises a potent front-court tandem, with the senior Roberts the team’s undisputed leader.

"She sets the tone for us," Bledsoe said. "We like to pressure people, and she’s a real factor in that."

Where Sarah Roberts, an All-State volleyball player, is super quick in scoring off the break, Bailie Roberts is a pure front-court jump shooter that can get to the basket or spot up for the 3 with equal ease.

Heritage, with floor leader Katie Brooks out with the flu last week, led 14-12 after a quarter before a Sarah Roberts burst to close the half put Maryville out front, 31-23. Bailie Roberts took up the scoring in half two, warming in the fourth as her surname counterpart sat with foul trouble.

Maryville led 46-36 after three quarters, with Bailie Roberts pumping in seven points in a 9-2 run to start the fourth.

"Bailie is our most consistent offensive player at this point," Bledsoe said. "She’s not always our leading scorer, but she’s always up there."

Maryville is much more than simply the Roberts tandem, though. Bowman, the team’s 6-foot center, not only anchors the
Lady Rebels defensively but can score around the basket with the best of them. Junior Abbie Harper is a much-improved threat from the perimeter. Meredith Niethammer, last season’s steals champion, can quickly turn defense into offense like perhaps no other player in the district.

"Meredith is obviously our floor leader," Bledsoe said. "While she doesn’t score as much in every game, she gets the ball where we need it to be."

The win by Bearden now has three teams behind the Lady Rebels with three losses in league play. If strength of schedule means anything in terms of preparation, Maryville isn’t likely to falter in what is sure to be a race to the finish.

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