On one hand, it's been a struggle for coach Tim McPhail and the McMinn County girls' basketball team this season, indicated by their 0-13 record in nondistrict play. On the other hand, though, is McMinn's district play -- a completely different story.
The Lady Cherokees enter the 5-AAA tournament as the No. 2 seed with a 9-3 district mark. They were scheduled to play East Hamilton tonight at 6, but weather concerns could push that back to Thursday. The district also has a contingency plan should a Thursday schedule get wiped out, with four games being played in East Hamilton's high school gym and two others in the adjacent middle school gym.
Keeping a team focused when it limps to a 2-12 start seems like it would be a tough task, but that wasn't the case for McPhail when the new calendar year rolled around. After all, the Lady Cherokees had suffered an unexpected loss to the rotation right before the season began, so players were thrust into new roles.
"It threw a wrinkle in early on," McPhail said. "The way we started, it would have been really easy for our girls to cash it in and just say the season's a wash, but they really came together and got things rolling -- especially in the district."
Included in those wins was a split with Cleveland and a sweep of Walker Valley. McPhail noted that his team had an increased focus coming into those games, as the Lady Cherokees were unhappy with their predicted finish of fourth at the preseason media day. McPhail felt the team was able to use that as motivation.
"Keke [Smith] and I really got the girls together in the locker room and talked about what we needed to work on," said forward Rachel Burke, the team's leading scorer and rebounder. "At the beginning, we started rough, but once we started playing as a team, we started doing better. We knew we had the ability to be a good team, but it wasn't until we started executing during games that things started clicking and working better."
So are the players more pleased by their district showing, or disappointed by what happened out of the district?
"I think we could have done better in nondistrict games, but the district is what matters," Burke said. "We're right where we want to be now. We can go as far as we want to go."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.