published Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Hixson, Central girls' basketball teams on the rise

Central High School girls basketball coach Rick May talks to his players before a game with East Hamilton.
Central High School girls basketball coach Rick May talks to his players before a game with East Hamilton.
Photo by Connor Choate.

For many years, the Chattanooga area had one other thing that appeared as inevitable as death and taxes: The girls' basketball teams at Central and Hixson high schools seemed destined for the bottom of their league.

But anyone scanning the District 6-AA standings today must look a lot higher than the bottom to find the Lady Purple Pounders and Lady Wildcats.

Central and Hixson wound up tied with Tyner for fourth place this season in their eight-team district. The three went 1-1 against each other, but by the district's tiebreaking criteria the Lady Rams will be fourth-seeded in the tournament and the only one of the three hosting an opening-round game.

The tournament begins today with Central (9-13) playing at Tyner at 6 p.m. Sixth-seeded Hixson (10-14) plays Friday at 6 at Brainerd. Winners today and Friday secure berths in the Region 3 tournament.

Beginning with Saturday's girls' and boys' semifinals starting at 1, the remaining district tournament games will be played at Hixson. Consolation games are Monday and championships are Tuesday with girls' games at 6 and boys' games at 7:45 both days. Admission is $7 each day.

The Lady Pounders' longtime sufferings were interrupted briefly when Rick Rogers, now Central's boys' coach, guided the 2005-06 team to a 10-13 record and a region berth in Class AAA. Two years later the TSSAA dropped them a classification, but it wasn't reflected by success in their record.

Coach Rick May said in addition to trying to get his players to ignore any kind of perennial-losers label, ignoring the lettering across opponents' chests is equally important. Last year's four-win season at least was better than the one before.

"We just couldn't find the right connection," May said. "Every time we got something going, we ran into some teams that were really athletic and really good."

Hixson's painful chronicles include a 74-game losing streak, snapped Jan. 19, 2010, but it was followed by eight more losses to finish a 1-21 season. Third-year head coach Matthew Smith was an assistant then.

"It was a joke all day every day," Smith said of the environment at the school. "Those days are over."

Post player Ashley Slaughter is the only current Lady Wildcat who has been in the program four years.

"It was horrible," she said. "Team morale wasn't good. We didn't come together as a team. We're real close now. I love it. I love my teammates. We know we're there for each other."

Smith said his current group is "the most encouraging team I've ever been around." Scoring is widely spread among the Lady Wildcats, led by senior guard Marissa Hill's 10.5 per game.

Sophomore guard/forward Sandrea Sylman paces Central at 13 points per game. Classmate and point guard India Corley, who transferred in two years ago from North Carolina, is the No. 2 scorer at 8.5.

Senior Hannah Powell is the Lady Pounders' top rebounder at 10 per game. Freshman T.T. Staten and sophomore McKenna Massengale are Hixson's leading rebounders at eight and seven per game.

Junior point guard Cierra Taylor has battled a knee injury but leads the Lady Wildcats with almost four steals per game. Coach Rogers' daughter, Central sophomore Madison, and Hixson senior Ty Harmon are 3-point specialists.

Post player Alexis Mitchell and guard Shamiyah Jones, both juniors, complete the Lady Pounders' starting lineup. Central senior Taliyah McReynolds and Hixson freshman Morgan White add depth to the benches.

"Our talent is getting better," Smith said. "Also, just believing we can win some close games has made a difference. We need to learn how to finish, but we have pulled out a couple that we wouldn't have been able to do two years ago."

Both teams had multiple single-digit losses to higher-seeded or Class AAA teams and return the bulk of their talent next season. If they could somehow improve enough to be the top-seeded teams in next year's district tournament, maybe death and taxes no longer will be inevitable.

"When I took the job, I had other colleagues say 'You're going over there?'" May said. "I said, 'Why not? The ball bounces the same. The goals here are 10 feet, too.' We're trying to get going in the right direction and earn some respect, and I think we have a little bit. Teams don't walk in anymore and see purple and think 'W' right away. Teams we're playing now have to play to beat us -- and have to play hard, too."

about Kelley Smiddie...

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 ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com.

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