On the outside, this afternoon's TSSAA Division II-AA basketball state semifinal between top-ranked Briarcrest Christian and second-ranked GPS looks like a matchup of star power.
Briarcrest's Lady Saints have a Miss Basketball finalist in 6-foot-1 Lauren Douglas, while the Bruisers have four players who have signed NCAA Division I scholarships in various sports, including another Miss Basketball finalist, Chadarryl Clay.
But lurking a few steps behind Clay and fellow spotlight players Simone Busby, Tory Kemp and Jenae Perry are what GPS coach Susan Crownover calls "the inner core of the team": senior Finley Bandy and juniors Brianna Farris and Tayanna Fernandez.
Those three must contribute if the Bruisers (25-4) are to go the final step beyond today's 3 p.m. EST game at Lipscomb University in Nashville. And all three understand their roles.
"I know that my main job is to be able to give Jenae a break," Bandy said. "When I go in, I have to be able to get rebounds and score a few points, but mainly just to work hard while I'm out there. I have to go hard during warmups, stay out of foul trouble and duplicate what Jenae does until she gets back in."
Farris moved into the starting role vacated by graduated senior Mary Anna Caldwell, while Fernandez comes off the bench. They know that they have to be ready when the ball comes their way.
"I like starting because I have to be ready at the beginning, and instead of having to come off the bench and provide energy, I have a say-so in what happens at the beginning of the game," Farris said.
"I know that when I'm on the court, I'm there ... but I'm not there," Fernandez said. "Other teams don't feel like I'm a threat to them, so they probably pay more attention to other players, but my appearance shows up when needed, either by trying to score or going in and grabbing rebounds."
A lot of attention will be paid to Briarcrest's Douglas, the forward who scored 20 points in the first half of last season's state final against GPS after becoming eligible days prior. She finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds, fizzling out after the impressive first 16 minutes as her conditioning wore down, and GPS wiped out a 15-point deficit in winning 55-50.
"She's quick and she knows how to move around in the post," Bandy said. "She's a very strong post player."
Briarcrest coach Lee Smith insisted that revenge will not play a factor today.
"I don't do that," he said. "We've hardly mentioned GPS in preparation this week; we've spent this week trying to get better. Basketball is a game of runs, and you don't always know what you're going to get, so I'm not going to get caught up. It's not about last season; it's about this one.
"Obviously, GPS is a good team. They're good across the board, and I don't see any weakness on their team, but I like mine. We're just going to toss it up, play ball for 32 minutes and go from there."