Unaka High basketball riding high

By Marvin Birchfield

   Whether you're talking about the girls' team or the boys' team at Unaka, there's one thing that's for certain -- they're both headed to the state tournament.
   It's not often a school gets to enjoy seeing their sports program have a stellar year and become one of the finalist as being the best there is that season.
   Unaka has witnessed both the girls, who defeated Wartburg Central 54-51 Saturday night, and the boys, who converted the winning bucket of their 55-52 Monday night win over Cosby in the final seconds, advance to Murfreesboro with a chance at a state title.
   "They've been high off the win, and it's something they've been working toward," said Lady Ranger coach Kenneth Chambers. "This is something we talked about last year, and decided this was what we were going to try to accomplish."
   Both teams had early-season stumbles, but when it came crunch time at the end, Unaka responded to the challenge.
   "We knew we were going to have to challenge these guys, and when we did we knew things didn't look so good," said Unaka boys coach Donald Ensor. "The press, state rankings, and even some in the community were doubting that they could do it. They became a family, and we went all over the state playing the best competition we could get."
   This is the boys second trip to the state in the past three years, and one reason to their success has been senior leadership from Rusty Chambers.
   "When we come to play, I feel like we're one of the best teams in 1-A basketball," said Chambers. "We're going down there and have a good time, but we're also going to take care of business and play. Our coaches did a good job all season with game preparation and getting here to this point in the season."
   The girls have received strong interior play all year long from post player Julie Roberson, while Jessica Osborne at wing hit the mark from outside, but it's a total combination of players that has given this group a chance.
   "We've played together and stuck together as a team," said Osborne. "We've all stepped up and played our butts off. This is great -- this is the first time we have ever went and we're enjoying it."
   Cosby looked to have the upper hand against the boys late in the third quarter, but the guard play of Tyler McCann in the final period prolonged Unaka's season for at least one more game.
   "We're real excited in getting to go down the road and competing with the best, and hopefully we can go there and be the best," said McCann. "Now we get to go back there and do what Ben Cole, Aaron Dugger, and all those guys did. It's great."
   The unspoken hero of the Lady Rangers the past couple of seasons has been Coty Townsend.
   Townsend, a sophomore, has not always had the stats that stood out, but it has been her solid play on the court which enabled a team to help maintain flow of the game.
   "We're not just satisfied with going down there, but we want to win the championship," said Townsend. "That has been our focus all year, and hopefully we'll make it home without a loss. We lost a couple of games early we shouldn't have, but other than that I'm really happy with what we have done."
   The special bond that has developed on both teams along with the support of the community has resulted into the great success which most schools only get to dream about.
   "The boys were here the other night to support us, and we were here to support then back," said Chambers. "I felt like the other night that all the parents and the crowd helped motivate us to play better ball. This is a great bunch of people and fans here, and I would just like to thank them."
   Hats off to the coaches and all the players who have worked hard in earning the status of being one of the best sports program that the state of Tennessee has to offer.
   "The guys are used to taking a plan and carrying it out all the way to the end," said Ensor. "I still don't think these guys have peaked yet. We haven't reached our goal so far, but it's this is another step toward it."