High school basketball teams go to camp in the summer and open fall practice with the goal of reaching the state tournament.
Mt. Juliet’s girls and Wilson Central’s boys are one step from entering the door to Middle Tennessee State’s Murphy Center, home of the TSSAA State Championships.
But other teams share the same goals and there is only room for half of the girls teams which will play tonight and boys on Monday in sectional action.
“This is an exciting time,” said Mt. Juliet coach Chris Fryer, whose 28-1 Lady Bears will play host to Franklin at 7 p.m. tonight with the winner advancing to MTSU. “You think you’ve had a great season when you get to substate.”
This is Mt. Juliet’s ninth sectional in Fryer’s 16 seasons. The Lady Bears have won six of the previous eight. In all, MJ has been to 13 state tournaments since 1977. Fryer is seeking his seventh state, which would break a tie with his predecessor, Tommy Martin.
“We try not to take it for granted because you never know when you’re not going to make it,” Fryer said. “This is the goal of our program, to get to the state tournament.”
The round of 16 is also familiar to Wilson Central, whose 10 seniors are in their third straight sectional. The Wildcats have been in five previous sectionals, popularly known by their former name, substate. They’ve won three, including two years ago by the current nucleus.
“Our kids are pretty tough,” said Wildcats coach Troy Bond, who also played in a state tournament at Lebanon and participated in three others as a Blue Devil assistant under current county mayor Randall Hutto. “They’ve played a lot of ballgames, been in big ballgames. I think our kids will step up Monday.”
For the first time since 2005, the Wildcats will play a sectional at home when Hunters Lane visits for the 7 p.m. contest. Central is 25-6 while the Warriors are 22-10.
“At this point, everybody’s good,” Bond said. “We feel fortunate to be in the substate. We’re thrilled to play at home.
“We’ve had a great crowd and great following this year. Hopefully, we’ll have a great crowd turn out.”
Mt. Juliet is a solid favorite to return to Murfreesboro after a year’s absence. But while the Lady Bears’ boast one of the state’s best front lines, Franklin uses quickness.
“They like to play really fast,” Fryer said of the Lady Rebels. “They like to get up and down the floor. They want to play in the broken floor. Some of their strengths are our weaknesses.”
Franklin is 19-11, having upset Dickson County in the Region 6-AAA tournament semifinals before losing to Overton in the final.
“They’ve gone on a pretty good run at tournament time,” Fryer said. “Most of the games they’ve lost have been close. The only team to have blown them out is Blackman.
“They seem to be a balanced team. Everyone averages 9-10 points per game.”
But there is one Lady Rebel who concerns Fryer more than anyone else – 5-foot-10 small forward Anna Patton.
“She makes everything go,” Fryer said of Patton. “She’s an all-everything player. She plays great defense, she shoots the 15-foot jumper, she’s a really good passer. She was the MVP of the district on a team that didn’t win the district.”
Patton’s also the centerpiece of Franklin’s 2-2-1 press.
“They put her in the middle of the press and causes havoc,” Fryer said. “She’s their overall leader, their go-to player. She makes everything happen for them.”
Hunters Lane also presses even though Warriors coach Anthony Sewell limits his rotation to around seven players.
“They’re going to press you most of the game, back into man,” Bond said. “They’re going to get a lot of points out of turnovers.”
Hunters Lane’s top scorers are 6-4 wing Kevaughn Russell and guards Devine Howard and Austin Carey.
“They have a good athletic group, rebounds well,” said Bond, noting his Wildcats do match up at least evenly in size. They also saw the Warriors during the summer.
“Hunters Lane will be a tough game for us,” Bond said. “They’re going to get after us.”