Bradley Central's Bearettes have a mission this high school basketball season not only to make a return trip to the Class AAA state tournament but to get there with their full complement of players. Then they'll take their chances.
After falling short with a 44-43 home loss to Lawrence County in a state sectional in 2011, the Bearettes cleared the sectional hurdle last year by hosting and defeating Blackman 55-46. That landed them a spot in the state tournament. But post player Rebecca Reuter was assessed her second technical foul in the game after fouling out with 2:29 to play, and she was ineligible to play in Murfreesboro against Science Hill, whichbeat the Bearettes 64-38.
Coach Jason Reuter, Rebecca's father, and other Bradley officials pleaded their eligibility case to the TSSAA but to no avail.
"I went to the state tournament five times as a boys' assistant here, and as a player in Kentucky," said Coach Reuter, who has directed the Bearettes to District 5 and Region 3 titles in each of his first three seasons. "Other than winning it all, that is the ultimate goal. We finally get there, punch our ticket, and I don't care that she is my daughter, you hate to see that. We felt like we were going to a gunfight with two bullets in our gun instead of a full revolver."
Because Rebecca Reuter has eligibility remaining, she also was required to sit out a second game. That occurred last Tuesday when Bradley opened its season with a 54-25 victory over Cookeville in a TSSAA Hall of Fame game.
The Bearettes' twin towers of Reuter, a Middle Tennessee State signee, and fellow 6-footer Brooke Copeland, who has signed with Florida, will be reunited for Tuesday's home game against two-time defending Class AAA state champion Riverdale -- a potential sectional opponent. They say they're ready.
Copeland and Reuter grew up rivals from the time they were third-graders until they arrived at Bradley together in ninth grade.
"We were either going to hate each other or be best friends," Copeland said.
But Copeland with her rugged playing style didn't take it so easy on her new best friend in the beginning.
"When I came in, I had never really played against a post player who was better than me," Reuter said. "Brooke was a lot bigger than me and pushed me around. I had like four black eyes, just from practice. I bled or was bruised every single day, but it was a good learning experience."
The other starters this season are new to the lineup and include senior guard Lindsay Davis and sophomore forward Julia Gaither, who didn't even dress out for varsity last season. Senior Mady Stallings will run the point until junior Chelsie Summers returns.
Summers tore an ACL and had surgery nine months ago. She was released last Monday to begin practicing and can start playing sparingly during Bradley's Thanksgiving tournament.
The Bearettes also will rely on freshman reserves Emma Kate Brown and Halle Hughes to provide depth.
"Both of them did a whale of a job in our first game," Coach Reuter said. "Their basketball IQs are beyond their years."
Rebecca experienced being on the court without Copeland for a portion of this past volleyball season while Copeland recovered from August elbow surgery. Enough of the separation, they say.
For Bradley to fulfill its mission, it must have the duo who combined to average more than 30 points and 19 rebounds and nearly four blocks per game last year on the floor at the same time. Rebecca said if she never plays in a state-tournament game she won't be bitter, but the goal isn't just to get back to Murfreesboro.
"We're not even thinking about just making it to state," she said. "We want to go further."
Said Copeland: "I don't expect to lose at all, if we're being honest here."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.