published Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

GPS Bruisers have surprised themselves with 10-1 start

BEST OF PREPS TOURNAMENT

Girls' first-round game on Dec. 26

GPS vs. East Hamilton

GPS starters: Akia Harris (Soph.), Sydney Shutters (Soph.), Kelby Crownover (Sr.), Kara Ware (Jr.), Reagan Williams (Jr.)

East Hamilton starters: Lexi Zackery (Sr.), Kyndall Caudle (Soph.), Taylor Giles (Sr.), Maggie Woods (Jr.), Merci Wood (Soph.)

Items of interest: The Bruisers are 9-0 when they score 50 or more points this season. That includes a 32-point victory over the Lady Hurricanes on Nov. 21 -- a game in which Zackery was just returning from injury.

Call it a pleasant surprise.

The Girls Preparatory School basketball team came into the season not quite sure of what to expect. The Bruisers graduated Brianna Farris to NCAA Division I member Long Island University and returned only two starters, and longtime head coach Susan Crownover resigned after the 2012-13 season and was replaced by Jennifer Williams.

Through 11 games, the team is 10-1 -- and loving every minute of it.

"I didn't expect to be doing this well, but I definitely don't think we gave ourselves enough credit about how good we could be," senior Kelby Crownover said. "I think we've surprised ourselves, along with other people. We think we're doing well, but we have to keep up the good work."

GPS, which will play East Hamilton in the opening round of the Times Free Press Best of Preps tournament on Dec. 26 at Chattanooga State, had to deal with three new starters as well as learning Williams' system. A summer camp at Middle Tennessee State University didn't help to answer questions leading into the season, but the Bruisers seem to be learning on the go.

Shot selection has been a big part of their good start: The Bruisers shot 57 percent through their first seven games. Williams said she became a believer in what the team could do in a win against Sequatchie County.

"I think that day we showed more potential than I thought," Williams said. "They had a big center and a good point guard, so it was an awkward matchup for us, but I thought we played very well.

"We're not going to out-talent most of the teams we played, but we like to run the ball and hope that by the third quarter we've started to wear our opponents out. We have speed and quickness that we try to use to our advantage."

The catalyst for the team, sophomore point guard Akia Harris, said the Bruisers have had to reassess their overall goals after their hot start.

"I think we've realized we could be good if we work hard, put in the work in practice and work as a team," she said. "Some of us have had to step up and play bigger roles this season, but my goals are always to go as far as we can. I don't go for anything less than trying to be at the top."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.

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