DECATUR — The Lady Tigers hope that an upgraded schedule will pay dividends come tournament time.
The Meigs girls went 29-4 last season and reached substate, where the Lady Tigers fell at Macon County.
Meigs Coach Jason Powell said Macon County was simply the better team. In order to raise Meigs’ level of play, Powell has upgraded the schedule, which will include several Class AAA schools.
“I didn’t know how good Macon County was until we got over there,” Powell said. “To me, they were just better. It wasn’t about us, they were just better, in my personal opinion. The only way I know how to get better is to play better people. If we played lesser teams we might win by 30 or 40 and be 10-0 but how much better does that make us?”
So instead of playing lesser teams that the Lady Tigers are almost guaranteed to win, Meigs will start the season playing at Oak Ridge on Tuesday and then against Farragut and Grainger. Oak Ridge and Farragut are Class AAA schools while Grainger is a AA school, but went 30-7 last year and reached the state tournament. The Lady Tigers also play defending AAA state champion Bradley Central High School and annual state power South Greene.
“I don’t think we will be 29-4, put it like that,” Powell said. “In theory, I hope that toughens us up a little bit. And we have McMinn County twice and they are always good. I just hope we don’t get too beat up early and that it hurts us mentally. They are juniors and seniors now and if they can’t deal with that … that’s just part of it. It’s too late to turn back now.
“Instead of playing someone we win by 30 or 40 points, that’s not going to happen at Oak Ridge or Farragut. We will just be hoping to survive. Maybe we can scratch and claw and get something out of it and be better at the end. In theory, that’s what you hope will happen.”
The starting five to start the season will be junior point guard Jacelyn Stone, senior wing Kassidy Kenny, junior post Anna Crowder, junior post Ella Crowder and junior wing/guard Jaci Powell. Meigs will continue to use a motion offense and in most cases will use a full court press on defense.
“Sometimes I think of Anna as a guard,” Powell said. “So sometimes it’s almost like we start four guards and a post in Ella. They can all put it on the floor and they can all shoot it. That’s a pretty good combination to have.
“They all can defend,” Powell continued. “That’s just as important as being able to go out there and make a shot. I’m sure other teams that can stand out there and make a shot, but can they turn around and deny the inbound pass? That’s not the case with us, they are able to play at both ends. If we couldn’t, I wouldn’t be pressing.”
There are some games in which Meigs may have a difficult time pressing the opponent or have players in foul trouble. In that case, the Lady Tigers will play half-court defense and may even play a little zone at times, though Powell much prefers playing man-to-man.
“I like to run the floor,” Powell said. “The kids like to play that way. It’s more fun to watch and it’s more fun to coach. We are fortunate to have a group that can do that. I’ve had teams where we just had to walk it down the floor and make eight or nine passes before we take a shot or we can’t guard and I pull my hair out.”
As with most coaches, Powell puts a premium on playing defense.
“Because I was such a great defensive player myself,” Powell joked when asked why he values tough defense so much. “The coaches I have learned under and been mentored by put a great emphasis on defending.
“We want to dictate,” Powell continued. “We don’t want them to run their offense and get the shots they want and we just hope they don’t go in. No, we want to dictate and take away things they want to do and make them uncomfortable. Over the course of the game, if they don’t have as much depth and they start to get tired, they get frustrated and they have taken some bad shots and all of sudden the dam springs a leak and it just gets bigger and bigger.”
The Lady Tigers will also have solid depth as Powell will utilize an eight-player rotation with Ansley Wade, Brianna Bales and Krista Crager coming off the bench, at least to start the season.
“We are eight deep and that’s a good number,” Powell said. “If we had to we could go a little further. Wade, Bri, and Krista all have the ability to come out there and give us a spark, whether it’s offensively or defensively. They all have the capability of making shots. Krista made a three the other night (in the jamboree) and Bri muscles her way around and gets offensive rebounds and put backs. Ansley can get to the cut and shoot it. She had a really good district tournament last year.”
Other members of the team include junior wing Chelsey Goforth, freshman post Kaylee Tholin, sophomore wing Cayden Hennessee, freshman wing Tally Lawson, sophomore wing Sara Swafford and sophomore post Olivia Miller. The only player Meigs lost off last year’s team was Alice Shaver. Powell believes the Lady Tigers have the talent to go back to substate, though that is far from a sure thing.
“Obviously, we are not going to have the same record, but that doesn’t mean anything when you get to tournament play,” Powell said. “I think we have the capability of getting through the region, which I think will be tough. If we can get that far with Red Bank or Signal Mountain in the region and after that it will probably be Macon County or Upperman. That’s why I’m trying to raise our level of play.”
But Powell emphasized that just because the team had success last year and has almost everyone coming back that success won’t automatically happen this year. He pointed out that the district will have some roadblocks, including Sweetwater and McMinn Central.
Sweetwater returns its starting five and he believes Central, despite losing its backcourt and a significant post player, will again be a team to reckon with by the end of the year.
“Central will be better in February than they are early because Coach (Johnny) Morgan is a proven winner,” Powell said.
Powell said he would like to finish first or second in the district so that Meigs doesn’t have to worry about being in a play-in game to start the district tournament. Then he hopes the tough early season schedule will help the Lady Tigers in the region and, hopefully, substate.
Asked about the key to success this season, Powell said it wasn’t about the offense or the defense, it’s about teamwork.
“I think its going to be important that we play together,” Powell said. “Because with our schedule and if we have any aspirations of doing anything in the postseason, I think it has to be about each other and not about ‘me.’ I know that’s an old cliche, but if we can have solid cohesiveness and play together then we can have some success.”