East Hamilton's girls lasted one game in the District 6-AA high school basketball tournament in their first season. A year later, No. 1 is where they're seeded for the tournament.
The Lady Hurricanes had such a dynamic second season within their district, they actually wrapped up the regular-season title with three games to play. East Hamilton (16-10) will host East Ridge on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the first round of this year's district tournament.
The District 5-AAA and 6-A tournaments get under way today with 6-AA and two others starting Thursday,
East Hamilton coach Derek Morris said one of the drawbacks with last year's team was trying to blend players from so many different middle school programs into a unit. The Lady Hurricanes were 14-10 before entering the district tournament, then dropped a 42-38 decision to Central.
Morris said his players continued building on the bonding process in camps last summer. And he put together a rugged out-of-district schedule, against which the Lady Hurricanes went 3-9.
"I really felt we did have potential, as far as talent goes," Morris said of entering the season. "We started out pretty poorly, but a lot of that had to do with our schedule. In the long run, it was good for them."
East Hamilton was 12-0 in district play when it lost 67-66 in overtime last Thursday at Tyner, which will be second-seeded in the tournament. The Lady 'Canes had beaten the Lady Rams 61-48 at East Hamilton on Jan. 7 and outscored them 26-9 in the third quarter that night.
Sophomore point guard Jessica Caudle, who averages 9.2 points, four steals and three assists per game, said of the recent loss that the Lady 'Canes may have been a little lazy because of the ease with which they won the first time.
"We won't be playing again like we did that game," she said.
Morris said he sensed a let-up in practice intensity after his team clinched the tournament's top seeding, which was the game before the loss. Refocusing, particularly taking care of the ball, he said is a priority now that postseason has arrived.
"At the beginning of the season our goal wasn't so much to be No. 1 in the district, but to play together as a team," center Alexis Adams said. "We wanted to play as East Hamilton. All that came later.
"Being the No. 1 seed means we have a big target on our backs. Since we know that, we're going to have to go harder in games."
Adams' scoring average of 9.8 points per game is second to sophomore Tiffany Lewis's 10.5, and at 5-foot-8 she's easily the team's leading rebounder at 10.4 per game. Morris said that's only part of Adams' worth, being a captain and one of the team's two seniors.
"She really has stepped up, as far as taking on a leadership role," Morris said. "She definitely leads by example, diving for loose balls and going hard."
East Hamilton was 1-3 when Adams came up with a 23-point, 20-rebound performance in a victory over Austin-East.
"I think that kind of intensity started rubbing off on people," Morris said. "I've been really impressed with her maturity."
Adams said she doesn't look at younger players as anything but teammates. And with their youth, the Lady Hurricanes' imminent future may look bright. But the immediate future is their only concern right now.
"I think we can go to state," Caudle said, "if we play together and do what we're supposed to do."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.