published Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Lady Golden Eagles back in region tourney for first time since 1995

Rhea County's Alex Hughey (14) drives to the hoop Monday during their game with Walker Valley.
Rhea County's Alex Hughey (14) drives to the hoop Monday during their game with Walker Valley.
Photo by Tim Barber.

TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE

Friday, Feb. 24

Region 3-A

Van Buren County at Arts & Sciences, 7

Marion County at Silverdale Academy, 7

Grace Academy at Sale Creek, 7

Copper Basin at Whitwell, 8

Region 3-AA

Central at McMinn Central, 7

Tyner at Sequoyah, 7

Meigs County at Red Bank, 7

Polk County at East Hamilton, 7

Region 4-AA

Smith County at Grundy County, 8

Bledsoe County at Livingston Academy, 8

Cannon County at Sequatchie County, 8

Region 3-AAA

Warren County at Bradley Central, 7

Cumberland County at Cleveland, 7

Walker Valley at Coffee County, 8

Rhea County at White County, 8

Division II-AA

Harpeth Hall at GPS

EVENSVILLE, Tenn. — Rhea County senior Alex Hughey can't remember the last time the Lady Golden Eagles advanced to a region basketball tournament. In her defense, such things are hard to remember when you're only 16 months old.

Rhea's 43-30 victory over McMinn County in the District 5-AAA tournament last week ensured the Lady Golden Eagles' first region appearance since the 1994-95 season, when they advanced all the way to sub-state. They lost 64-44 to eventual state champion Shelbyville Central, then coached by current Middle Tennessee State head coach Rick Insell.

Rhea finished 20-14 that season.

This year's version has a 13-20 record and a date with District 6 champion White County (13-17) in the region quarterfinals Friday night in Sparta.

"It's been a great feeling," Hughey said. "Right now we feel really good about things, and we think we can pull together and do well in the region tournament. We're a lot better than we were, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. In the past, other teams had more depth. We always had one senior or no seniors. We were young.

"We've made strides, though, and have pulled together and are more of a team."

All region tournaments involving area girls' teams begin Friday at the sites of the higher seeded teams, except for Notre Dame playing tonight at Class AA second-ranked Upperman. Semifinalists in each class will be at single sites Monday: Region 3-A at Arts & Sciences, 3-AA at East Ridge, 4-AA at White County and 3-AAA at Cumberland County.

It's been a long process for the Lady Golden Eagles to get to this point. Last season, they recorded their first district win in years, defeating Soddy-Daisy. Before then, mired in a league with perennial powers Bradley Central, Cleveland, McMinn County and Walker Valley -- and previously Cumberland County as well -- they had a considerably harder time.

Shane Johnston, in his fifth season as head coach, credits the senior class of Hughey, Morgan Allen and Atlanta Ervin for "sticking in there." His first team went 0-26.

"There have been a long line of obstacles we have faced over the last few seasons, but the kids deserve the credit for buying into what we have asked them to do," he said. "It truly has been a process, and now we have to take the next step and develop consistency. As consistency grows, then future successes will, too."

Johnston is the 18th girls' coach in the past 36 seasons.

The Lady Eagles now face a White County team with which they have three common opponents: Ooltewah, McMinn County and Coffee County. Rhea went 2-4 in those games, while the Lady Warriors defeated Coffee three times and split with the other two.

White County has won eight of its last 11 games.

"Making the region tournament and representing our community is special," Johnston said. "I have tried to stress this to the kids, and hopefully we will play well."

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