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Returning to the ‘Boro… Lady Highlanders return to State after eight-year hiatus

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
Walking onto the court at Oneida High School an hour before the Class A sectional between Cloudland and Oneida, there were a couple of things apparent.

The Lady Indian fan base had come out early and filled most of the bench section donning the same colors of the University of Tennessee’s orange and white.

As a matter of fact, some of the guys elected to show up in their checker-board orange and white bibbed overalls.

Secondly, the Cloudland Lady Highlanders were seated calm, cool, and collected on their bench just taking in what was going on around them and possibly reflecting on the past season for those who had visited in 2020 with the same reward on the line – a trip to the BlueCross State Basketball Championship.

Last season, the basketball didn’t bounce exactly the right way for the Lady ‘Landers as the Lady Indians managed to grab a last-second rebound and put it back in the hoop before the horn sounded to end Cloudland’s season.

And even trailing in the early stages of Saturday’s game, the Lady Highlanders never panicked but after a half time talk by their head coach, Matt Birchfield, challenged them to win two quarters, the message was received loud and clear and the result was pure elation for the ladies in blue while the home team quickly turned off the scoreboard and exited the gym.

With the win, the Lady Highlanders boarded the bus on Tuesday morning in Roan Mountain with the final destination of Murfreesboro on tap.

The visit to the 2021 BlueCross Basketball Championships marks the first visit since the 2013 season when the Lady ‘Landers fell in their first game of the tournament to a 31-3 Union City team, 45-29.

Cloudland was in the game up to the end of the third quarter trailing only by a 26-24 score before Union City got hot and Cloudland got as cold as a Roan Mountain snow getting outscored 19-4 in the final quarter of play.

Brooke Rhodes had 14 points in that contest to lead the Lady ‘Landers. Jackson County won the state title that season.

The trip will mark the sixth time that the Lady Highlanders have garnered a shot at the state title since back-to-back showings in 2002-2003 as well as in the 2012-2013 season in the modern BlueCross State Basketball Championship format.

Cloudland is 0-5 in their past showings, but there is a very good chance that the Lady Highlanders will break that goose egg this season with the gold ball only three games away.

There is a pretty good chance that by the time Star readers get an opportunity to read this piece that the Lady Highlanders are playing or will have played their first opponent in the 2021 tournament in the Loretto Lady Mustangs out of Lawrence County.

The black and Vegas gold-clad Lady Mustangs enter the tournament with a 17-7 record as of March 5th.

Loretto enters the 2021 tournament with a state tournament overall record of 20-16 with 19 appearances dating back to 1958 and finished as the Class A runner-up in 2019 losing 50-42 to Gibson County in the title game as Gibson County went on a 32-21 run in the second half.

Junior point guard Karly Weathers returns this season to the Lady Mustangs after scoring 26 of the 42 points recorded by Loretto as a freshman in the 2019 state championship game to receive the Most Valuable Player award.

But as Birchfield pointed out after the Oneida victory, this week each of the eight teams in the tournament will enter with 0-0 records and the season is basically a one-game season with the opportunity to earn two more games ending up with a shot at a gold ball to bring back to the trophy case.

Participants in the Class A BlueCross Girls Basketball Championship include North Greene, Clarkrange, Clay County, Gibson County, Loretto, Peabody, Summertown, and the Lady Highlanders.

The game time for the Cloudland – Loretto contest is 11:30 am Central and 12:30 pm EST.

Best of luck and prayers for a safe trip to the ‘Boro.

Go Lady ‘Landers! Carter County is proud of you!