By Rick Sheek
The Lady Rain’s season got even better last weekend, but the local AAU basketball team had a quite stringent assignment in Franklin.
Making the trip without two starters and a top reserve, the Lady Rain captured the ninth-grade (14-and-under) state championship at the A-Game Sportsplex.
“But we thought we could compete,” Lady Rain coach Todd Bowers said on Wednesday. “I think we play good fundamental basketball. The girls are smart, listen and are very coachable. We can complete with anybody when we play our style.”
The team is comprised of Unicoi County’s Chelsey Harness, Hampton’s Alexis Bowers, University High’s Taylor Treadway, Colonial Heights’ Emma Carico, former Elizabethton players Kianna Watson, Tori Miller and Kasey Gordon, and EHS’s Anna Densford. Carrico is the lone eighth grader.
There were 10 teams in the Lady Rain’s age group, most from Middle and West Tennessee. There were a few teams from the Knoxville area.
To reach the annual event in Franklin, the Lady Rain won a qualifying tournament at Carson-Newman College in the sophomore division.
The Lady Rain went 2-1 in pool play in Franklin. There were victories over the Lady Silver Foxes from Middle Tennessee 51-31 and the Clarksville Lady Soldiers 58-51.
The Tennessee Power from Middle Tennessee then prevailed 48-45 for only the second loss of the year for the Lady Rain (38-2), which won seven of eight tournaments entered and only other defeat was at the hands of the Knoxville Panthers Elite sophomore bunch.
The Lady Rain was seeded second for Sunday’s championship round, and faced the possibility of playing three top seeds to take the final. The first victim was the Tennessee Fury, 60-45.
“We jumped out on them pretty good,” Coach Bowers said of the quarterfinals.
Next up in the semifinals was defending state champion Tennessee Team Pride from Murfreesboro. The decision was 60-49 against the program which has produced Gloria Johnson, the former Lady Vol now in the WNBA.
Going down in the final was Tennessee Flight Select, a Nike-sponsored program, 61-58.
“When they play in a tournament, you pencil them in for the championship,” Bowers said. “We jumped out on them early, but they fought back. We got a few key steals and had good free throw shooting, and ended up beating them.”
Harness sat out the final due to an injury.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge going in Sunday,” Bowers aid. “The girls really stepped up and met the challenge without our big post Harness in the championship, but we knew Alexis and Taylor would have to step up and score some points to shoulder the load. So did the other girls.
“It was a total team effort. We did what we were supposed to do, and played hard.”
Gordon paced the championship effort with 20 points. Alexis Bowers (21 ppg in tourney) scored 17, going 10 of 12 at the foul line.
Treadway hit 15, Carico dropped in eight and Watson netted one point in the final.
“We’ve got a special team,” Bowers said. “The main thing is we’ve got a team. We’re not the most athletic team.
“Every tournament we go to we’re undersized. We’ve not very big.”
The Lady Rain are headed to Cincinnati this weekend for a Nike exposure college tournament with five games scheduled. The Lady Rain went 5-0 in a similar event earlier this year in Greensboro, where scout services and college scouts will be on hand.
“It got the girls some exposure and interest from a few colleges,” Bowers said.
The coach will give the kids off three weeks to participate in high school camps before a trip to the Disney Complex.
Then in July is the AAU Nationals in Florida, and another exposure tournament to wrap up the season.
“It will be loaded with college scouts, too,” Bowers said. “We’re trying to get the girls who have aspirations to play at the next level in front of college coaches. It is never too much, too early.”