To play for state basketball championships, McCallie and GPS must overcome opponents led by Mr. and Miss Basketball finalists.
The Division II-AA state semifinals today at Lipscomb University in Nashville have top-ranked GPS (21-1) playing eighth-ranked St. Benedict (23-6) at 3 p.m. EST and No. 7 McCallie (18-7) facing fourth-ranked Briarcrest Christian (19-9) at 4:30.
St. Benedict is led by Symone Daniels, a 5-foot-11 post who has signed with Drake University and is versatile enough to play on the wing. But GPS, which is in the state tournament for the first time since 2003, has a Miss Basketball finalist of its own, junior point guard Chadarryl Clay.
Clay is ranked the nation's ninth-best point guard by ESPN, averages 15.6 points and six assists per game and scored 17 of her game-high 28 points in the final quarter of the Bruisers' quarterfinal win.
"We know that Daniels is a very good player obviously, but I feel like Chadarryl is the best player in the state," said GPS coach Susan Crownover, whose Bruisers' only loss was to Orlando's Dr. Phillips School in a holiday tournament. "We're really clicking when she gets everybody involved and we're not just standing around watching her."
The Bruisers have won 12 straight games since their loss, including eight by double figures.
"What makes me feel good is how excited we are to still be playing," Crownover said. "It would be easy to be worn down by this time of the season, but our girls are so ready and hungry to show what they can do. Our effort has just been super here lately, but it will boil down to the same thing it always does this time of year - rebounding and playing defense."
The GPS/St. Benedict winner will play the winner between fifth-ranked Briracrest (23-5) and defending champion Ensworth (20-8) for the girls' championship Saturday at 4 EST.
In the boys' bracket, McCallie returns five of its top seven players from a heartbreaking loss in last year's semifinals. Christian Brothers won that game on a 70-foot heave at the buzzer.
McCallie's top priority is to slow Austin Nichols, Briarcrest's 6-foot-7 sophomore Mr. Basketball finalist who has made 70.8 percent of his shots from the field this season and averages 15.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game.
"Obviously he's a very good player and will give us a good challenge," Blue Tornado coach Dan Wadley said. "Overall they're similar to us in a lot of ways, so it will be a very evenly matched game.
"I think the biggest difference for us this year is experience. Our guys went up there last year and were kind of star-struck. We led most of the game and lost because we didn't close out and take care of business. This year we know what's at stake. We've earned the right to be here, and our guys seem more businesslike. We all want to make Chattanooga proud."
The winner of McCallie's semifinal will face the winner between top-ranked Ensworth (25-3), which has yet to lose to an in-state team, and 10th-ranked Montgomery Bell Academy (19-8). The boys' title game is set for Saturday at 6.