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Big 7 girls: 'Toppers, Tribe ready to battle for top spot

Jeff Birchfield • Nov 11, 2018 at 3:00 PM

After Daniel Boone was hit hard with graduation, Science Hill and Dobyns-Bennett are expected to battle it out for Big 7 Conference girls basketball supremacy.

The Lady Hilltoppers are young, but experienced. They feature an athletic team led by 5-foot-11 junior forward Alasia Smith. Starting point guard Aliyanna Hill (5-6, Jr.) is surrounded by good shooters, including Jelia Greenlee (5-7, So.), Erin Egerbrecht (5-9, Jr.) and Symantha Fugate (5-10, Sr.), who has played positions 1 through 5.

Coaches' picks

1. Science Hill

2. Dobyns-Bennett

3. Daniel Boone

4. Cherokee

5. David Crockett

6. Volunteer

7. Tennessee High

Lily Cullop (5-11, Jr.) will likely start some games depending on the matchup, and Maddy Richmond (5-7, Sr.), Sierra Livingston (5-7, So.) and Yabre Garcia (5-3, Jr.) could provide opposing teams with other tough matchups.

Science Hill has made a couple of significant coaching changes. Former girls coach Greg Goulds and recent Lady ’Toppers star Gabby Lyon have come on as assistants.

“We’re not very big, but we’re fast. We only have two seniors in our program, Maddy Richmond and Symantha Fugate,” coach Scottie Whaley said. “Alasia is our leader, someone who plays hard all the time. Coach Goulds has come in and helped us with our press. The kids have been very receptive to him and we were thrilled to get Gabby back.”


The Lady Indians feature one of the league’s premier players, Courtney Whitson and perhaps the most depth.

Jaden Potts will be the starting point guard and the versatile Whitson, a 6-footer, will be at 2 guard. Bethany Welty, Peyton Domby and Ta-Tionna White are other starters, while key bench contributors look to be Megan Ayers, Caitlyn Wallace and Jabrea Johnson.

Despite losing three guards to graduation, coach Bill Francis maintains D-B is going to be better than in the past.

“All 13 girls can play. I mean all 13,” Francis said. “We went down and scrimmaged some Knoxville teams. We had a couple injured, but we played Farragut, we played Maryville and we played fine.”


The Lady Trailblazers, coming off a 30-win season and the school’s first-ever TSSAA Class AAA tournament appearance, have the task of replacing North-east Tennessee player of the year Macie Culbertson and other stars like Sydney Pearce and Emily Sizemore.

They also face the challenge of a coaching change after Beau Hauldren, an assistant on the boys’ team last year, took over for Travis Mains. Still, Boone has good returning talent, starting with team captains Bayleigh Carmichel, a 5-10 senior guard, and Jaycie Jenkins, a 5-11 junior forward.

Other projected starters are Kayla Gibson at the point, Madi Runnels and Jaiden Clark.

Olivia Miller, a transfer from Science Hill, will be eligible to play in December. Hauldren said other athletes like Greyson Stevens and McKenna Dietz will help. Seniors Jonna Casey and Grace Carroll should also contribute.

“We’re old but in some spots we’re not real experienced,” Hauldren said. “Bayleigh and Jaycie are the only two who have played significant minutes on varsity.

“The girls committed to the weight room in the summer and they’ve gotten stronger. They’re going to be all right.”


Experience is a key word for the Lady Chiefs, who feature six seniors led by 5-9 guard Harper Russell. The athletically gifted Russell also has competed in both track and cross country state championship meets.

Other Cherokee seniors are Lauren Smith, Kennedy Cowan, Karah Alvis, Hannah Collins and Mataylin Goins. The six seniors are leaders, but coach Jason Lawson said that all 10 girls on the varsity roster will play.

“Harper broke 1,000 points last season and we expect her to be fluid running the team offensively,” Lawson said. “Hopefully we can get some good, quality shots and have been working on our sets to create more quality shots. We have to figure out how to use our quickness and our speed to our advantage.”


Longtime boys coach Tony Gordon, who served as a Crockett assistant most recently, has been re-energized taking over the girls program.

Emma Gouge, a 5-7 sophomore and a leading scorer from last season, returns to the starting lineup along with junior guard Karina Palomino, Mackenzie Baldwin, Alyssa Suits and freshman guard Emily Trivette.

The starting lineup isn’t set in stone, though. Gordon promises to use different lineups to develop multiple scoring options.

He’s excited to get 5-11 senior Kara Weems, a star pitcher on the softball team and recent Milligan College signee, on the court. With other contributors like Halle Scott, Madison Day and Mattie Miller, Gordon believes Crockett can surprise some people.

“I have confidence in our kids, how hard they work,” he said. “We’ll defend you and I trust we will compete.”


New Volunteer coach Tyrone Smith promises a fun style of play, more run-and-gun than in the past, and a system based on ball movement that copies the Golden State Warriors.

Projected starters are Bryna Minton, who has recovered from an injury suffered last season, Atlee Dean, Chloe Salyer, Kenady Knittel and Allie Parsons. There are times when the Lady Falcons could have five guards on the floor. Seniors Emma Bice, Autumn Deal, Kiersten Trent and Tieran Whalen and juniors Tinsley Whalen, Kiley Trent and Madison Sanderlin all will likely see action in Smith’s system.

“I believe in strong, hard-nosed defense and having a lot of girls come in,” Smith said. “I want us running. I love watching the Golden State Warriors and I want a lot of shots. Shoot the 3 and guard them hard. We want to play fast and defend fast. If you defend well, that gets you easier shots than running plays.”


A familiar face is back on the sideline in Kim Bright, who returns as the Lady Vikings’ coach after being a spectator for the past decade.

“It feels great, feels like home,” Bright said. “Our (coaching) staff is like family and we have a strong tradition in basketball and we hope to get it back to where it needs to be.”

But with 5-9 guard LynLeigh Rhodes the team’s only senior, she faces some challenges. Sophomore Riley Fritts and junior Kenzie Nickels have varsity experience, but otherwise it’s limited. The rest of the junior class includes Vanessa Le, Autumn Cathey, Annessa Pennington, Faith Stigall, Alexa Lewis and Lakelyn Ziegler, a standout athlete as an all-state swimmer.

(This story has been changed. Courtney Whitson has de-committed from ETSU.)

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