The socks are a good place to start.
Maryville coach Kim Bledsoe balked when Meredith Niethammer first suggested them. These weren’t just any leggings. Like the shorts the Lady Rebel point guard wears for games, they were super-sized. Designed for soccer, they’d reach mid calf on a player 6-foot-4.
Niethammer is 5-9.
“We told her the Lady Vols wore them (once),” Niethammer said.
While not persuaded by Niethammer’s argument, Bledsoe went along. The socks, above the knee even when cuffed, had been a present from a relative for a holiday tournament in December. Niethammer and the Lady Rebels had played well that game, so the socks stayed.
“I just thought it was funny,” Phyllis Niethammer, Meredith’s mother, said, “and she talked (teammate) Morgan Cox into wearing them, too.”
Niethammer’s fashion statements are indicative of a player not afraid to lead, Bledsoe said, an important trait in a point guard. It’s been key in a retooled Maryville team (19-10) that battled its way to a runner-up finish in the District 4AAA tournament on Tuesday.
Farragut out rebounded the Lady Rebels all game and got the big shots when it needed them to turn back Maryville, 63-59, at South-Doyle. The Lady Rebels will host Campbell County in the opening round of the Region 2AAA tournament on Friday, with the semifinals and finals scheduled for Monday and Wednesday at Bearden.
Maryville will rebound, Bledsoe said. Niethammer is a big reason why.
“She’s very self confident,” she said. “She doesn’t have to prove herself to anyone. She’s her own person.”
The Lady Rebel senior is a busy and much accomplished one as well.
A two-sport standout at Maryville, Niethammer is also a talented infielder on the Lady Rebel softball team. She can hit for power. She can run the bases.
Named to all-tournament team on Tuesday, Niethammer has guided Maryville this season with averages of 12.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, four assists and two steals per game. Her 58 total steals are nearly double her closest teammate. Her 181 rebounds trail only junior Bailie Roberts, a forward, for the team lead.
Niethammer’s athletic prowess is substantial, but she’s done with sports after high school. As with the socks, she’s going her own way.
“I’m really interested in the medical field,” she said, “but I’m also interested in finance.”
Those are steep goals for a high school senior, but then Niethammer has the track record.
The quick-thinking guard was named the Tennessee recipient of the Wendy’s High School Heisman a year ago. A student’s academic success counts for as much, if not more, as does athletic achievement in selection.
Leading the district in steals for three consecutive seasons is one thing. Acing a math exam, Niethammer said, is much more satisfying.
“I’ve made like four Bs in high school,” she said. “When I get a B, I remember it.”
The pursuit of straight As is a Niethammer family tradition. Matt and Michelle Niethammer, Meredith’s older brother and sister, were also academic and athletic stars at Maryville. John Niethammer, Meredith’s father, is a doctor.
“When I was younger, my dad would always ask where my homework was first,” Meredith said.
John Niethammer had a lot to do with Meredith’s early academic success. The basketball she gets from her mom, her youth and AAU coach, with an assist from Matt.
“When I was little, I was a big tomboy,” Meredith said. “I always played with my brother and his friends.”
Getting knocked around by Matt and his friends engendered in her daughter a fierce drive and determination to succeed, Phyllis Niethammer said.
“She wants to excel at everything she does,” she said.
Anything less really stings.
In Maryville’s semifinal win over Sevier County on Saturday, Niethammer, at times, seemed to be seeing the game two and three passes ahead. When the Lady Rebels needed a basket, she scored. She would finish with a team-high 20 points. Whenever Roberts, the team’s leading scorer, was open, Niethammer got her the ball.
“The first three quarters was probably the best I’ve played in a while,” Niethammer said. “The fourth quarter was probably the worst.”
Seeming disaster struck when Niethammer picked up her fifth foul with two minutes remaining, the game’s outcome still very much in doubt.
“I almost passed out when that happened,” she said.
Sisters Taylore and Torrie Vaught were quick to the rescue, though. With a handful of seconds left, Torrie drew a charge on the defensive end to get the Lady Rebels the ball back, Maryville holding a one-point lead. On the ensuing possession, Taylore stepped to the foul line to bury a pair of free throws to ice a 54-50 win.
“That a baby, Taylore!” Torrie exclaimed.
Maryville wasn’t able to pull off the same escape when Niethammer collected her fifth on Tuesday.
“I think it’s just her leadership that we depend on,” Bledsoe said.
Friday’s another day, and Niethammer’s trademark knee-highs look anything but worn out.
All-District 4AAA Girls
Katie Brooks, Heritage; Karly Stache, Heritage; Meredith Niethammer, Maryville; Bailie Roberts, Maryville; Allison Bosse, Farragut; C.J. Dake, Farragut; Stephanie Torrence, Farragut; Chelsea Haney, Sevier County; Amber Trail, Sevier County; Kendal Baxter, Sevier County; Leah Kelley, William Blount; McKenzie Wampler, Lenoir City; Mary Hirst, Bearden; Rikki Sanders, Bearden.
Player of the year – Katie Brooks, Heritage
Coach of the year – Stacy Marine, Sevier County
>All-District 3AA Girls
Victoria Dailey, Fulton; Mercedes Blair, Austin-East; Tara Hayboer, Seymour; Kendra Brown, Seymour; Taylor Mills, Gibbs; Brittany Cavalaris, Gibbs; Dalnitra Warren, Alcoa; Shericka Wilson, Alcoa; Breyonna Bennett, Carter; Gerrica Caldwell.
Player of the year – Jasmine Lewis, Fulton
Coach of the year – John Fisher, Fulton
Sevier County at Oak Ridge
Campbell County at Maryville
Karns at Farragut
Heritage at West
(All quarterfinal tipoffs 7 p.m.)
Sevier County/Oak Ridge winner vs. Campbell County/Maryville winner, 6 p.m.
Karns/Farragut winner vs. Heritage/West winner, 7:30 p.m.
Championship game, 7 p.m.