By David Clary
Saturday night, the miraculous journey of the Oak Ridge Lady Wildcats continues with a one-game opportunity to join a historic group of great girls basketball teams who have worn the Cardinal and Gray.
For 30 years, the Lady Wildcats dominated East Tennessee basketball and were a major state force as well, making 21 state tournament appearances and playing in nine state championship games along the way. Oak Ridge played a national schedule, being invited to the most elite women’s tournaments in America. They finished several seasons ranked in the USA Today’s Top 25 poll and earned a number two preseason ranking, garnishing them an invitation to Florida to take on the number one-ranked team in that same poll. Twice during this time they tasted victory over a number one nationally ranked team and once a defending national champion. But since 2010, things had changed.
Since their last substate win and state appearance, the Lady Wildcats have fallen on hard times, for them anyway. Anything less than at least a sectional for such a storied program like Oak Ridge meant an unsuccessful season. Those are harsh words for the players on those teams, but expectations are always high at Oak Ridge. Since 2010, the Lady Wildcats set records for losses in a season and futility in some games offensively and defensively in record ways. That being said, they still qualified for the region three times in those five years and posted a winning record over the period. The Lady Wildcats had become just another average team, however.
The Saturday night sectional game with Dobyns-Bennett is a product of hard work put in not only by a group of unselfish, talented young ladies but by their new head coach Paige Green and her staff. But, to be fair, the improvement began last season under David Scott as the Lady Wildcats won 19 games with a young and inexperienced team. The maturation came to fruition this year especially with the addition of freshman Jada Guinn and the leadership from senior Caelyn Thompson and junior Courtney Ellison. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the talented Mykia Dowdell and a true point guard in Jaymi Golden as well.
So Saturday night, this group, along with the supporting cast, will try to put Oak Ridge back on the state’s basketball radar. A win over the Lady Indians will put them in next week’s TSSAA Girls State Basketball Tournament in Murfreesboro. But regardless of the Saturday night outcome, to reach this game after all they have been through over the last several years is simply miraculous.
The Saturday night girls sectional game between Oak Ridge and Dobyns-Bennett starts at 7 p.m. March 5 at Wildcat Arena.
David Clary is owner of Prepradio.com, which covers Oak Ridge Wildcats basketball and football games.
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