East Hamilton girls basketball coach Derek Morris felt like it was a good two-year run.
The 2011-12 season ended with the Lady Hurricans – still a fledgling program by any measure – reaching the Class AA girls sub-state round for the second straight year. A lineup off seniors exited triumphantly, and then talented Tiffany Lewis transferred to a school in Murfreesboro.
So it was time for Morris to rebuild. But fortunately for him, he did not have to start totally from scratch.
The core of the 2012-13 Lady Hurricanes would, from Day One, be senior shooting guard Jessica Caudle. While 84 percent of last year's offense graduated, Caudle and a few young players, a few players who were waiting their turn and one key transferred made this year's team officially a “reload,” not a “rebuild.”
“I think all of my realistic expectations have been exceeded already,” Morris confessed Monday ight after the Lady Hurricanes made their return to the sub-state official. “We've really come together as a team.”
The “no drama” aspect has been a significant part of enjoying the ride this season, Morris said.
“One of the big differences from last year's team is that we had a lot of behind-the-scenes issues,” he explained. “I haven't seen that this year. Everyone has gotten on board with the team concept, and know we're going to go where number double zero takes us.”
Caudle, who had 17 points in Monday's win, concurred with her coach's assessment of her last two seasons.
“We are more of a team,” she said. “We trust each other a lot more, and we always know where the others are going to be. We don't run as much as we used to, but we're comfortable setting up the ball.”
The Lady Hurricanes put a well-rounded lineup on the floor this season, with 6-foot-3 Harp a presence that few of East Hamilton's district foes could match up with. Lexi Zackery has been the team's primary 3-point shooter and versatile Kyndle Caudle has been versatile and productive. She also happens to be Jessica's freshman isster.
“I do enjoy playing with my sister,” Jessica explained. “We butt heads occasionally, but that's because we're both so competitive. As the year has gone, she's gotten more physical, has become more of a rebounder and she's playing smarter now.”
Jessica has led East Hamilton in scoring much of the year at around 14 points per game. Harp, who battles for hers inside every night, has been a huge component.
“We lost all of our post players, so having Juliette (Harp) transfer in from Alabama was huge,” Norris said. “Kendra Ivins, one of our senior captains, and Shea Scott, our second leading scorer, graduated.”
Topping the 20-win barrier, including an 18-0 record against other District 6-AA teams, makes this a successful season by anyone's standards. But Jessica claimed she felt her senior year would be a good one.
“I always thought we would be successful,” she said, quickly added, “but only because we really get along well together and have shown we get together at the right moments.”
The Lady Hurricans next play McMinn Central Wedneday at 6:30 for the region 3-AA championship at McMinn County High School.