At the start of this school year, members of the Bearden High girls basketball team didn’t know whether they would get to play because of COVID-19.
But once their season tipped off, a trio of senior captains has led the Bulldogs on a remarkable run that will culminate in a state tournament appearance next week.
On Wednesday, the Bulldogs defeated Maryville to win the 2-AAA region tournament and extend their record to 28-1. That dominant run included a defeat of Ensworth in February, a victory that ended a 60-game winning streak for the Nashville powerhouse.
Coach Justin Underwood said senior captains Reagan Ruth, Zneyah McLaughlin and Natalie Rice set the tone for the program, and noted that each of them had an older sibling that played basketball for Bearden.
“Our seniors understand the expectations of leading our program. They do a fantastic job being an encourager and serving others,” Underwood said.
For basketball teams, one of the most obvious impacts from Covid has been the significant restrictions on the number of fans who can attend games this year.
Ruth said the lack of fans has made it even more important for team leaders to be a vocal presence, both on the court and on the bench.
“I like to pick up the team, encourage them,” she said. “When I’m on the bench, (I) just hype people up. The energy we bring on the bench, the people on the court really feed off of us … Because we can’t have a crowd this year, it’s hard to bring the energy.”
The win over Ensworth last month was an important marker for the team, and McLaughlin said it proved the Bulldogs can beat anyone if they put their mind to it.
The senior guard said this year’s team is special because of their willingness to work for their coaches, teammates and families. She also praised Underwood’s leadership, saying he has taught her the importance of being able to accept coaching.
“Because everything’s not always going to go well,” she added. “You need to acknowledge the good things when you’re in a position of leadership, but you also need to acknowledge what you can work on and what you can get better at.”
And while the pandemic has presented unexpected obstacles, it may also have produced a stronger bond within the team.
Rice said the Bulldogs have made a point not to worry about off-the-court distractions, but instead to focus on achieving their goals together.
“I like playing for Bearden because I think the team is really a family,” she said. “We all just care about each other so much and every girl on this team is like a sister to me.”
This story is part of a series highlighting student leaders within KCS. Other articles in the series profiled former Board of Education student representative Noah Kelley, former West High School football co-captain Tyrell Ragland, and Carter High School drum majors Jadejsha Arnold and Ploomie Messer.
Picture of the Week
Some 8th-graders from across the district got a chance to learn about a variety of career pathways during last week’s KCS Career Expo!
The event was organized by the KCS CTE Department, and Byington-Solway students Alex Wilcox and Ethan Crawford joined with Jamie Lane and Becky Spaulding of ResourceMFG (pictured above) to help make it a success.
A big thanks to our sponsors, including: Pellissippi State Community College; Knox Education Foundation; Junior Achievement of East Tennessee; and the Knoxville Chamber. Thanks also to our industry sector sponsors: Trane / Trane Technologies; Knox County; the city of Knoxville; Lincoln Memorial University; and Springboard Audio Video.
Josh Flory is a multi-media specialist with Knox County Schools and writes this blog, Hall Pass, for the KCS website.