Middle School girls looking for success

  By Rebecca Pierson
  Asst. Sports Editor
  rpierson@starhq.com

  With varsity girls basketball set to start this weekend, the junior varsity squads have been shining up the hardwood now for a couple of weeks. Most middle school teams are looking for a successful season and to capitalize on their strengths.
  Cloudland's JV girls return nine eighth graders and include five seventh graders on their A-team squad. Brooke Johnson will be starting at the point while the wing positions will be filled by Sydnie Buchanan and Jordi Miller. At the post will be Brooke Hughes and Shellie McKinney.
  Both McKinney and Johnson was named All-Region last year as seventh graders.
  Depth will be a highlight for the team whose coach feels that they are all competent enough players to step in as needed. Samantha Buchanan, Sarah Holtsclaw, Danielle Potter and Cessalie Severson may get called upon to step up.
  "We are looking forward to a good year," Cloudland coach Randy Birchfield. "We have a lot of kids coming back. We think we have a lot of potential. We had a good year last year. We have a lot of kids that stand out. We don't have just one. We think that we have 10 that can really play. We are looking for good things out of them and we hope to have a good year.
  "We are looking forward to a good year," Cloudland coach Randy Birchfield. "We have a lot of kids coming back. We think we have a lot of potential. We had a good year last year. We have a lot of kids that stand out. We don't have just one. We think that we have 10 that can really play. We are looking for good things out of them and we hope to have a good year.
  "The conference will be strong this year. It is very well coached. They do a real good job at Happy Valley. Hunter, Hampton and Mountain City also do a real good job. There is a lot of people coming back so the conference will be really strong this year. It will be up in the air.
  For the T.A. Dugger team, Kelly Aubrey, Erin Anderson, April Davis, Madison McKinney, Lauren Taylor, Taylor Bellessa, Mariah Pietrowski and Ashley White will be the ranking eighth graders. Jasmine Jefferson and Kade Robinson are the seventh graders on the team, but the coach is expecting big things out of all of her girls.
  "In our scrimmage, we weren't at our best but we can improve," T.A. Dugger head coach Angie Barker. "I think we will be in the mix of the top two or three. We should be very competitive. We have a small number right now but we work well together with 17 girls on both teams. They give up a lot of effort. We still have a few that need to learn to play as a team."
  For Keenburg Elementary, last season's small schools champions, Nannette Manz, Jessica Trivette, Brooke Bunton and Connie Wright are the starting eighth graders. Seventh graders on the varsity team will be Connie Harrell and Brittany Moore.
  "We hope to have a good and winning season," Keenburg coach Amy Harkleroad said. "They work really hard. We have a tough conference. There are four or five teams that are right together. We got a good start but we have a lot to learn. In our first game, I could see that we still have a ways to go."
  The Jr. Warrior squad at Happy Valley is looking to be the darkhorse in thier conference this season.
  Summer Ward, Courtney Byers, Nichole Hardin, Syndney Skeans, Lyndsey Toney and Heather Hughes share the most varsity experience. Kelly Kincer, Kelly Johnson, Casey Wilson, Brittany Rice, Whitney Jarrett and Ashley Price will also be seeing some time this year.
  "We went to Emory and Henry this summer and finish with a 10-1 record," Happy Valley head coach Dana Hill said. "They can all play. I am very pleased with them. Cloudland and Hampton will battle it out and we hope to be the underdogs. I look for this group to be a great group to coach. We should be able to compete with anybody come January and February."
  Returning to the Lady Bulldog squad is Mikki Oliver, who is seen as the JV's best guard in the area. Josie McKinney puts up some speed and aggressiveness. Street said he will be looking at big things from Stephanie Elliott and Kelli Metcalf, while Sara Goodwin, Cassie Johnson, Ashley Huffman, Randa Dunlap and Megan Hazelwood will also be putting in some time this year.
  "I have some pretty good athletes," Hampton head coach Ronnie Street said. "If they can play as a team and keep working hard, we should be okay. They want to win the district again this year. I have a good JV team coming up as well. We'll be alright if we can get past Cloudland and Hampton. They are a great group to work with. They are just a great group of girls."
  Little Milligan only has two eighth graders on the team this year -- Sarah Calhoun and Brandy Campbell. Kristy Robinson, Kelly Stout and Mollie McQueen will be representing the seventh grade this year. Brittany Marble will be the lone sixth grader on the team this year but Cable is expecting that she will step up on varsity just fine.
  "We've improved a lot over the summer," Little Milligan head coach David Cable said. "We are very young. I expect we can compete well with others in the conference. I think that we can pull out some close victories. Hopefully we can do some damage come tournament time."
  The Jr. Lady Rangers will be looking to dominate the floor later in the season, but are still in the development stage.
  "We could be a decent team," Unaka head coach Don Parkey said. "We won't be the best. We have a lot of young girls. We will be better later rather than early. We will be stronger on the board this year and we are stronger on the inside than in years past. Inexperience will hurt us early. We hope the eighth graders will carry us. We are still developing the bench. Our main weakness will be quickness."
  Kalleigh Elsea, Whitley Grindstaff, Brittany Hughes and Misty Shaffer will be the upperclassmen on the team. Natalie Johnson, Danielle Jones, Kayle Wilson, Sylvia Whittaker, Megan Oliver, Chesney Cox, Natasha Peters and Emily Peters will round out the seventh graders who could be seeing some time.
  The Lady Comets of Central will be capitalizing on their speed and their depth this season, but will also be in a stage of development with only three eighth graders on the team.
  Laura Moore, Hayley Sisk and Emily Bradley will be the starting eighth graders this year. Whitney Murray will be starting as a seventh graders. The fifth starting position will be rotating around Haley Hughes, Samantha Berry, Heather Cordell, Halee Verran and Kayla Cole.
  "We have speed," Central assistant coach Lisa Sisk said. "We have a lot of quick hands and quick feet. Sometimes, we are too quick. Verran is probably one of the quickest kids in the county. Our biggest thing is that we have no height. We have to rely on our smarts and our speed."
  "I think right now the league itself is extremely tight," Central head coach Letha Carr said. "I was extremely impressed with Little Milligan. We need to get back to the basics."
  The Lady Tigers of Hunter have had a few surprises in the preseason. Head coach Tammy Taylor announced that it would be her last season as coach, but Taylor has also been surprised with the younger girls on the team that have stepped up this year.
  "We went to North Carolina this summer and played at the high school level," Taylor said. "We did fairly decent to be an elementary school team. We have a lot of thing we need to work on. We scrimmaged teams out of Greeneville and we seemed to be building.
  "I have had girls step up that I didn't expect to do well at this point in time in the game. We are fine on height and we have one or two that are extremely fast coming down the court. We like to press and defense in our game."
  Andrea Lewis will be the captain on the squad and will also be running point. Brittany Nidiffer has been with Taylor since fifth grade. Chelsea Anderson, Chelsea Anderson, Hannah Colbaugh and Kayla Winters will also be putting in some time on the floor this year.
  The Jr. Lady Longhorns will be lead this year by April Wilson, Kendra Mabe, Angie Couch and Tynae Corum. Under head coach Steve Nave, the girls will be looking to improve off of last season.