CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Inside a gymnasium adorned with state championship banners and retired jersey numbers of high school legends, Bradley Central's Anna Muhonen banked in her first half-court shot late into Wednesday's practice at Jim Smiddy Arena.
To play for the Bearettes, whose all-time wins rank first among Tennessee girls' basketball programs, is an honor Muhonen does not take lightly. Even after a long practice followed by a 30-minute weight room session, the 6-foot senior forward was back on the court working on her post moves and shot with the clock close to 8 p.m.
Muhonen has been hard to stop so far this season, helping spur coach Jason Reuter's Bearettes to a 10-1 record and the No. 1 state ranking in Class AAA. Great strength, footwork and shooting touch have helped her lead Bradley Central, with Muhonen scoring nearly 15 points per game on 58.5% success from the field with per-game averages of 7.5 rebounds and more than one block.
Since the 2010-11 season, the Bearettes have averaged 29.6 wins per season, and they currently have 86 straight victories against district opponents, a run Muhonen has helped keep alive.
"I am proud to play for a program with such a rich tradition," the Lee University signee said. "Coming into this season, not many people were putting us in the top 10 even, because we lost Anna Walker and fell in the first round of the state tournament last year. But we play with a chip on our shoulder and just go out there and play like we have something to prove no matter who our opponent is."
Walker graduated in the spring and is now a freshman contributor for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, but Muhonen has been joined by sophomore Hannah Jones in providing standout performances in the post.
The 6-foot Jones, one of the quickest players on the court in any given game, offers athleticism, size and a sharp basketball IQ for the Bearettes. In back-to-back District 5-AAA wins against Walker Valley and McMinn County, the first-year starter scored a combined 43 points while shooting 20-of-29 from the field.
"Whenever a team doubles down on me, Hannah is cutting to the open spot to where she gets her baskets," Muhonen said. "She is so quick, and it pumps me up to see her doing so well. Not only can she score, but she is probably the best help-side defender we have. We work really well together and have a good high-low game."
Feeding the post has worked well for the Bearettes, who have 18 assists in three of their past five games.
Jones is thankful to have a great mentor by her side.
"Anna is always positive and encourages everybody around her," said Jones, who has averaged 13.1 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 64% this season. "If you don't know what's going on, she is there to help you. She is a great leader and person to look up to. She's the type of leader I want to be one day for my younger teammates."
With dreams of helping the program win its third Class AAA title in three seasons and seventh state championship overall, Bradley Central's senior star is ready for the challenge ahead.
"Being a part of the state championship team two years ago was special and is definitely a lot to live up to," Muhonen said. "We are proud to be ranked No. 1, but that doesn't mean anything at this point. We aren't truly No. 1 until we win it all, but people seeing our talent and recognizing it does mean a lot."