Sinard, Jeff. Co look to shock TSSAA bracket
DANDRIDGE – When the Jefferson County Lady Patriots step foot on the floor at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro Wednesday afternoon for their TSSAA Class AAA State Tournament opener against third ranked Mt. Juliet, it will be exactly one month since one of their worst defeats of the season.
That Feb. 5 loss to Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett was a turning point for the Lady Patriots, who were left 16-10 and losers of 3 of their last 4 games after the 46-30 road loss.
Since that defeat, Jefferson County has won 6 of their last 7 contests, including a win over fourth ranked Morristown West in the Distrcit 2-AAA title game and a road victory over sixth ranked Farragut in the Sectional round to earn the programs first state tourney trip since the playing days of Carolyn Peck under coach Dennis Roach in 1982.
The run came with only one blemish, a loss to the Lady Trojans in the region championship game, but the momentum never slowed. The win Saturday in Knoxville over the Lady Admirals vaulted the Lady Pats and second-year girls’ coach Rick Sinard into a new realm with a shot at a state title this week at Middle Tennessee State.
“Everything is just new to me,” Sinard said. “I’ve told the girls that we are one of eight teams left, and we have an opportunity to go down there and play for a state championship. I told them that everybody at this point is nervous just like we are and everybody is excited about being there.
“We’re going to go down after practice on Tuesday around dinner time and feed them and get them to their rooms and get some rest. We’ll try to make everything as normal as possible for them.”
Sinard hopes everything stays normal on the floor as well against the Golden Bears (29-1) when they face off at 2:15 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday. And staying normal will include getting freshmen Makaila Woolard and Alexandria Alder involved in the offense quickly.
Woolard, who scored 13 points in the win over Farragut after surprisingly being cleared to play after she was injured in the region title game, and Alder have been the backbone of the postseason run, putting up big numbers throughout the district and region tournaments.
“Makaila got us started off pretty good, and it was kind of a shot in the arm to get her back,” Sinard said. “We found out on Friday she would play, so we were really fortunate to have her back in there. She had a big game at Farragut, and Alder had a great game passing the ball around.
“The impact they have had on our team, mixing in with the rest of the girls, has been big. They have come together as one, and that is the biggest thing. The team chemistry is a lot better right now, and I think they just want to win.”
Anchoring the senior group has been Autumn Dodson. The Brenau University signee has been a quiet assassin from long range in the postseason, and her leadership, along with fellow seniors Katie Fawbush and Jacey Diaz, has been a guiding force for Jefferson County.
“Autumn and the other seniors Katie and Jacey have shown great leadership, especially over the last couple weeks,” Sinard said. “They talk about being together and doing the right things, and they keep the younger girls up out there. They have done a great job of getting the girls focused before the game on what we want to do in our game plan. It’s working out great for them.”
Sinard will need another big effort from Woolard, Brooke Taylor, Tori Griffin and the rest of the Lady Patriots against a Mt. Juliet team that starts three players standing 6-foot-2 or taller. They will be the biggest team JCHS has faced all season, and Sinard said their size presents a huge challenge for his team.
“They’re big, and they will start two 6-foot-2 players and another one that is 6-foot-4,” Sinard said. “I’ve seen them on film twice, and they are just high-low. Anything they do, they just high-low it to get it inside. They do look like some pressure could be put on them. Not all the time, but sometimes, and their guards aren’t bad.
“We’ve rebounded a lot better lately. We’ve guarded a lot better. Well I should just say we are in better position on defense. This team is tough. I think if we can do those things, we have a chance. If we don’t do those things well, we won’t be in the game.”
After seeing film on the Golden Bears, Sinard said his team would have to shoot well and play great defense with good intensity on the boards in order to have a chance to succeed.
“I can see why they are 29-1,” Sinard said. “We will have to shoot it well. We have to shoot it really well. They miss a lot of shots from the two games I have seen, but they just rebound it and put it back in. They have the boards covered with their three big girls, and if you don’t create space, then you’re in trouble.
“If we can guard and limit their shots, then we have a chance. I think the girls understand that.”
Sinard also expects his team to be a bit nervous at the start of the game, and they will need to shake any feelings of anxiety as quickly as possible to help them get into the flow of the game.
“I expect them to be nervous and hyped up, but hopefully we can realize pretty quickly that it’s just another ball game,” Sinard said. “It’s my job to get them to realize that, but it’s the state tournament. It’s something where the girls will just have to get through those first 4 or 5 minutes and calm their nerves. The quicker we can do that, the better off we will be.”
-By Matt Daniels, Tribune Sports Editor