EVENSVILLE, Tenn. — Whitney Thompson always has been a happy person. The Rhea County senior would smile regardless of the circumstances, even during games in which her basketball team was losing by large margins.
Now those smiles seem substantiated by her team's play on the court.
The Lady Golden Eagles are off to a rare 6-0 start, which includes a 2-0 record in District 5-AAA. They've done so with a solid seven-player rotation and coach Shane Johnston's attention to detail -- and tempo -- in practices.
"He wants us to practice at game speed," Rhea junior Julie Brown said. "He wants us to go nonstop in practice so we'll know exactly what to do in a game."
Johnston's practice-how-you-play approach has become a boon for the players since he became coach in 2007.
"We don't want to waste time in practice moving from one spot to another," Johnston said. "We want to make it hard for people to guard us. We don't match up with people around the state. Some are bigger than us; some are faster than us; some are stronger than us. So for that, along with the specific makeup of kids on this team, we are trying to push the ball up the floor.
"I believe it's hard to play fast on Tuesday and Friday when you're dragging on Monday and Thursday."
The Lady Golden Eagles qualified for their first region tournament since 1995 last season but lost to White County.
Rhea's six-game win streak is the first longer than two games in almost three years and the longest since a nine-game streak in 2005-06. According to the players, they've also developed a closeness that has aided them throughout.
"We're a lot closer than we've been in past years," Thompson said. "We work together and we're better because we all know our roles and don't try to do too much. We had selfish people back then, but this year we play as a team.
"It's a lot more fun to win, and a lot less stressful."
The Lady Eagles don't seem to be overwhelmed with their early-season success. In fact, there's a sense that it's made them thirsty for more in the near future.
"All of the hard work we've put in and all the hard times are starting to pay off," Brown said. "It's rough mentally, losing a bunch, but with desire and intensity, I think we have a chance -- especially because we haven't done big things in a while."
Said Johnston: "We know we have a long way to go to be a good basketball team, but we have enjoyed some early success this year and hope to keep working to get better."