Today's area district tournament schedule:
5-AAA at Cleveland: Soddy-Daisy girls vs. McMinn County, 6; Soddy-Daisy boys vs. Cleveland, 7:30
6-A: Lookout Valley girls at Marion County, 6
ENGLEWOOD, Tenn. - The only area boys' basketball team to be ranked in the state polls, McMinn Central cruised through much of its District 5-AA schedule on the way to a 23-3 overall record, a 7-1 league mark and a ranking as high as No. 6.
Yet the Chargers know that one slip-up in the district tournament can render all that irrelevant.
Their postseason road begins Friday when they play at McMinn County High School against the winner of Thursday's game between Sweetwater and Polk County.
As currently classified, no team from District 5 has advanced past the quarterfinals of the Region 3-AA tournament, where McMinn Central, Sequoyah, Meigs County and Polk County match up with schools such as Brainerd, Howard, Tyner and East Hamilton. The Chargers suffered a 64-53 loss at East Hamilton back in November, and that was before the Hurricanes got their football players on the court.
McMinn Central's other losses were at Sequoyah and at Knoxville Webb, which is ranked fifth in the latest Division II poll. The Chargers also have a win over Webb's Spartans, which gave them confidence according to senior forward Max Miller.
"That win opened up a bunch of people's eyes that we could do more than what others thought we could do," Miller said, adding that his team had a "few out" against East Hamilton as well. "They were No. 2 in the state, but it opened some eyes that we could come together as a team and go further than we had before."
The Chargers are averaging 70.3 points per game, but coach Doug Armstrong cites their defense as the difference from the previous two seasons in which they won a combined 25 games. In addition to an experience-loaded group of juniors and seniors, the Chargers have a lot of length in players such as Miller, Bradley Ward, Tim Webb and Levi Miller as well as speed and lock-down defenders in guards Denzel Boyd, Josh Scudder and Skyler Farrar.
"I think the kids have matured physically to where they're a lot bigger and stronger," Armstrong said. "I expected us to have a really good year -- maybe in the regular season -- but we've exceeded even what I've expected. I certainly think we've got a good shot to advance."
The fact that District 5 has been shut out in the Region 3 tournament the past three seasons is not lost on Armstrong. In fact, he was quick to point that out.
"You have to prove you can win at that level," said Armstrong, who last took a McMinn Central team to the state tournament in 2006. "When it comes to region tournament time, [District 6 teams] are battle-tested. We're always looking for somebody to play; that's why we picked Arts & Sciences back up."
Before the reclassification, the Chargers were in the same district as Brainerd and Tyner. Armstrong said he has tried to schedule Howard.
"The competition level over there is probably an advantage they do have because they play with a lot of confidence," he said. "But we're certainly looking forward to it, because we have an experienced, senior group and I feel it's a good opportunity for us."
Miller agrees that the team is in a good position.
"The past couple of years, Polk County and Sequoyah have been the main two opponents to go forward, but this year, we played some over the summer and did well against some pretty strong teams," he said. "It boosted our confidence that we can do whatever we want to.
"It's a challenge, but the way we're playing now, we think we have a really good shot at winning region and sub-state."