Hard work taking Lady Patriots long way

Hard work taking Lady Patriots long way

March 1st, 2014 by Kelley Smiddie in Sports - Preps

CSAS Lady Patriots head coach Zach Dragoo yells to his players during the Region 3-A championship game at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences.

CSAS Lady Patriots head coach Zach Dragoo yells...

Photo by C.B. Schmelter /Times Free Press.

Today's area TSSAA girls' state sectionals

(All times EST)

Class A: 7--Meigs County at Cloudland; 8--Arts & Sciences at Clarkrange, Jackson County at Van Buren County

Class AAA: 7--Oakland at Bradley Central

Arts & Sciences' girls are going today where no Lady Patriots basketball team has gone before. It happens to be Clarkrange, which is north of Crossville on Highway 127.

The CSAS girls have had some postseason basketball success over the years, but never has a Lady Patriots team gone on the road for a TSSAA state sectional. All that changes tonight when girls' sectionals are held throughout the state in all Division I classifications.

The Class A Lady Patriots play the Lady Buffaloes at 8 p.m. EST, and they're one of three remaining Chattanooga-area girls' teams with state-tournament hopes still alive. Tonight's winners will advance to the state tournament, which begins Wednesday at Middle Tennessee State University's Murphy Center.

The way things began this season for CSAS (17-14), it was questionable whether it would be a region-tournament team, much less a region finalist. But that's what the Lady Patriots were, losing by two points in the championship game to Van Buren County, which had beaten them by 27 points in the first of their three meetings.

It wasn't decided who would be coaching the Lady Patriots until nearly mid-autumn when boys' assistant Zach Dragoo took over the role. Dragoo recalled the fear he sensed from his players during the first practice, as well as his own uncertainty.

"They had no idea what to expect from me," Dragoo said. "I'm not one who smiles a whole lot. It's been fun to see as we've gone along how much more comfortable they've come with me, but there's still that respect that needs to be there."

The first half of the season was a struggle, but Dragoo said things began to turn around after the big loss to Van Buren's Eaglettes in January.

"We realized if we wanted to go somewhere, do something special, we were going to have to change," senior post player Brooke Mitchell said. "We decided we were going fight, and we were going to play hard."

Mitchell said there was no team meeting, just more of a realization by the players. It took a last-second shot by Van Buren at home to beat CSAS the second time.

"When we lost at Van Buren, that kicked in even higher," Mitchell said of the team's revamped attitude.

The Lady Patriots went on to finish second in the District 5 regular season, and they won the district tournament. Victories over Richard Hardy and Whitwell landed them in the region final and secured their sectional berth.

"We're more patient with the ball, and we play better defense," Mitchell said of the second half of the season. "We don't rush down the floor. Defense is what's really helped us win. We like to pressure the ball a lot. I think our defense has carried us to this point."

Mitchell said rebounding will be a key against Clarkrange, in addition to playing well defensively. Mitchell leads the team in rebounding at around 10 per game, and she also leads in blocked shots.

Mitchell, Keturah Billen and Sarah McElvain are the scoring leaders, each in the low-double-figures range per game. Aizha Little and Sheridan Randolph complete the starting lineup.

"I'm very, very proud of them," Dragoo said. "We've come a long, long way. Every challenge so far, we've met it. Now we've got our biggest challenge ahead of us. Let's see what we can do."

Contact Kelley Smiddie at ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.