The Lady Bulldogs have gotten off to a good start, but have run into an opponent that is hard to beat as the coronavirus has called a temporary halt to the season.
“We had a couple of positive tests so we are under quarantine,” Tennessee Wesleyan Coach Jeff Rice said. “It probably won’t be the last time somebody gets it and we have to quarantine. That’s just part of 2020.”
The team will come out of quarantine on Thanksgiving day and the school has a five-day minimum return to play protocal.
The Lady Bulldogs won’t play again for a couple of weeks, but when they do Rice believes this team can be a solid squad after enjoying a 2-0 start. TWU, which was 10-19 last season, was picked seventh in the league to start the season and that can be a motivating factor.
“It motivates me," Rice said. "But with the way we were last year with most everybody coming back it’s probably a fair deal. We (as a team) haven't really addressed it. I think Bryan and Union are the best two teams in the league, no doubt. But I think we can compete with anybody else. If we shoot the ball well we can do everything else we need to do to be competitive.”
The starting five at the beginning of the season are Madison McClurg, Cambree Mayo, Jordan Wright, Hannah Cherry and Ashley Baxter. Those coming off the bench include Kathleen Alomar, Chloe Yearwood, Alyson Crowder, Carlie Runyan, Kaitlyn Strange, Mikalee Martin and Madison Williams.
“The starting five just really play well together,” Rice said. “But the thing about this team is that we are very deep. On a given night, Kaitlin Strange could be the best player on the floor if they are playing zone and her shots are going down. We have a lot of people who can step up on any given night. Right now we are playing well together and nobody cares who gets the points as long as we are winning and I think that will continue.”
Wright and Runyan are starters from last year. Mayo is a freshman from Cleveland who has stepped into the starting role immediately.
“She has done a good job for us,” Rice said of Mayo. “We trust her with the ball even though she is a freshman. She doesn't try to do too much and she generates shooting opportunities for her teammates.”
One of the areas Rice thought was important going into the season was rebounding. McClurg and the other forwards have done a good job of that so far.
“This is something that is crucial for us,” Rice said.
Many area fans will recognize several of the players from their high school days as Runyan, Strange, Cherry and Wright are all products of McMinn Central while Crowder is a veteran of Meigs County and Baxter is a freshman from McMinn County.
And there is more local help on the way next year. Meigs County is sending four more players in Jacelyn Stone, Anna Crowder, Ella Crowder and Jaci Powell. Abbey Barr from Sweetwater is also coming on board.
“We have always recruited local players when we could,” Rice said. “We want this to be a place for local players to come play at and for their parents and friends to come watch them play. We are fortunate to be in an area with good players."
Rice is entering his 15th year as head coach after a long stint as former Coach Stan Harrison's assistant. Rice's overall record stands at 286-151.
During his tenure, the Lady Bulldogs have been conference champions six times and competed in six NAIA National Tournaments. He has also been named Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) Coach of the Year five times.
Rice is 12 wins away from 300 wins. That accomplishment would make Rice only the second coach in program history with 300 wins.
"I have been fortunate to have a lot of good players come through here," Rice said. "I've just been able to put the players out there in a position to succeed, that's all I've done. If it (300 wins) comes this season, great. If it’s next year that's fine. Hopefully we get to play 12 more games this year, you never know the way things are going (with COVID).”
Reggie Jackson, a former player at Wesleyan, is the new assistant coach for both the Lady Bulldogs and the Bulldogs.
The Lady Bulldogs started the season with a pair of wins over Columbia Collage and Point University. Games against Milligan and Reinhardt have been postponed and are expected to be rescheduled.