Chloe Mitchell and her Soddy-Daisy tennis teammates had a huge revelation last week: They are a pretty good team.
Their undefeated record in dual matches prior to the Oakland High School Invitational tournament would suggest that they were good, but the championship of that event -- which included perennial state public-school powers Bearden, Siegel and Dobyns-Bennett -- not only confirmed their thoughts but led the Lady Trojans to believe they might be shortchanging their abilities.
The Lady Trojans are close to clinching the regular-season District 5-AAA championship, but they also added a championship in the Power (A) Division of the Big Bang Tournament that was played the past three days at Middle Valley and Warner Park.
"We expected to be undefeated this season, because we worked really hard before the year to get better," Abigail Ellis said. "We've learned better communication and how to do different things, and we're learning what works and what doesn't work.
"We went to Murfreesboro last week hoping to gain a learning experience, but then we ended up winning it, and that's helped our confidence."
Cleveland won the boys' Power division of the Big Bang.
"I think last week showed us that we need to be more confident and that we're a pretty good team," Mitchell said Friday. "We knew we were good in our district, but all of the teams we played this weekend will be at state -- and we beat all of them."
Ellis is the team's lone senior, but coach Lorri Johnson has benefited from a strong freshman class, which includes No. 1 singles player Olivia Crawley. The newcomers, along with a group that advanced to the Class AAA state sectional round last year before falling to Siegel, has made this the deepest of Johnson's teams the past four years.
"I believe our underclassmen are committed to putting the time in that it takes to take the program to another level, get to the state tournament and hopefully win it at some point," Johnson said. "We went to Murfreesboro with the intention of doing well and believing that we could do it to actually achieving it. That builds confidence. Now we can come back and tweak things that we need to work on, but the tournament was an eye-opener for all of them -- especially since the freshmen, and some of the sophomores and juniors, haven't been there.
It's not like Soddy-Daisy is a lock for Murfreesboro, despite being poised for a long run. The district individual tournament that begins May 5 at Lee University is scored on a point system, with a point given to every match win in the tournament. Should somebody other than the Lady Trojans score the most points, the two teams will have to play a one-match playoff to determine the district champion. After that, there's the region tournament, then a possible rematch with Siegel in a sectional match.
"The key here is that we can't overlook anybody," Johnson said. "We have to focus on one event at a time, but we now know we can go to Old Fort and have the confidence to win because we went to the tournament and saw it can be done. They've seen it can be done and how much fun it could be to get to state and do well there."
Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress or 423-757-6311.