She’s got a Division I jump shot and rippling athleticism.
Rick Howard just likes the way Katie Brooks carries herself.
“It’s just unbelievable,” the Heritage High School coach said. “She’s grown up so much since she’s been at Heritage.
“She was a young girl that liked to follow as a freshman. She’s become a young lady that likes to lead as a senior. There’s no doubt; I think she’s one of the best players in the state.”
The Lady Mountaineers enter the top seed as the District 4AAA tournament opens with quarterfinal play this evening.
Heritage (25-4, 13-1 4AAA) hosts eighth-seeded William Blount (1-24, 1-13) as postseason gets underway, with Maryville’s third-seeded Lady Rebels (17-9, 10-4) welcoming sixth-seeded Lenoir City to James Campbell Gymnasium. Second-seeded Sevier County (20-7, 10-4) hosts seventh-seeded South-Doyle (3-15, 1-13), with fifth-seeded Farragut (18-11, 8-6) at fourth-seeded Bearden (16-10, 9-5) in other opening games.
All tipoffs are 7 p.m.
Tournament play shifts to South-Doyle for semifinal and championship round action on Saturday and Tuesday.
In many respects, this may have been Howard’s best season at Heritage. Only Brooks and fellow senior Karly Stache were proven commodities when fall practice began. Together, they comprised a terrific backcourt, but the Lady Mountaineers would need much more.
It was evident in December the Lady Mountaineers had found that something extra. Sophomore guard Lauren Burnette had become a deadly, third scoring threat. Junior Morgan Thomas had become an all-purpose guard who could create off the dribble and relieve Brooks at the point. Senior Erica Rose gave Heritage an option on the blocks. Fellow senior Emily Newsome became the team’s top defender.
“She’s one of the best defenders in the whole area,” Howard said. “She’s my stopper.”
The Lady Mountaineers served notice they were ready to make a run at the district crown when they won the prestigious Bearden Super 16 tournament over the Christmas holiday. They haven’t slowed much since, reaching postseason within striking distance of a school record once thought unapproachable.
Current University of Tennessee Lady Vol Cait McMahan directed Heritage to 108 wins in an injury-shortened high school career. The senior class of Brooks, Stache, Rose and Newsome opens tournament play with 104 victories to their credit.
It’s not going to be easy to eclipse the previous mark, especially with the league competition awaiting the Lady Mountaineers.
Both contests with the second-seeded Bearettes were close, including a 46-44 Heritage win at home. The Lady Rebels, with high-scoring forward Bailie Roberts and point guard Meredith Niethammer at the controls, played the Lady Mountaineers to a pair of one-point losses.
Bearden dealt Heritage its only district loss, the Lady Bulldogs taking a 77-69 decision in January in Knoxville.
“It’s a gauntlet,” Howard said. “You’ve got four teams that can win (the district tournament).”
If there’s a player that can do it for Heritage, though, it’s Brooks.
“She understands what those hard times were about now,” Howard said. “It’s paid off. She’s had a great year. She’s a great kid. She deserves everything she gets.”