|Published: 4:17 PM, 12/13/2012
||Last updated: 4:30 PM, 12/13/2012
Author: Seth Butler
Source: The Newport Plain Talk
By SETH BUTLER
NPT Sports Editor
NEWPORT-With a solid 3-0 start in District 2-AAA play, the Cocke County High School Lady Red is quickly becoming the surprise team in the league this year.
Just don't tell that to them.
Even though the team has won just five district games over the previous two seasons, there's no shock inside the Lady Red locker room that they stand atop the league standings headed into Friday night's showdown at Morristown West.
It's the first time in recent memory that the Lady Red have had this successful of a start in District 2-AAA play. Even during a four-year stretch from 2007-2010 that yielded 79 victories, the Lady Red started off on a losing note in district play each season.
"I think everybody on the outside looking is probably thinking there's no way they should be this good," first-year Cocke County girls' basketball coach Jeremy Byrd said. "But I think everybody in that locker room is not surprised at where we are."
While their success against other district opponents not named South Doyle might be a surprise to others, players on this year's squad have bought into Byrd's system - even though it might not be the easiest thing to endure during practice.
"I don't think it is (a surprise), with the way we practice every day. We practice so hard it's unbelievable," Cocke County senior Alison Atha said following Tuesday night's 53-48 win over
Cherokee High School. "I think this (start to the season) is what we should be doing."
Practice has become a ritual that hasn't slacked off, even in the midst of the three-game Cocke County winning streak. In fact, it's something Byrd said has became even tougher for his squad even in the face of victory.
"When we practiced the next day after (last Tuesday's) win, they said, 'Coach, I thought we won.' Well we did. You think I'm just going to take it easy on you when we get a win?" Byrd said after last Friday night's win over Jefferson County. "We have to win and we have to move on."
Enjoying each victory just for the night and then getting back to work is something that the team has come to accept and then has adopted. With each win, Byrd claims that it's just another rung of the ladder they have reached.
"I don't think (our success) is a surprise," junior Allison Ball said. "I think it may be a surprise to every one, but not to us, because like Alison (Atha) said - we go so hard every day in practice."
Byrd focuses much of his practices on defense and it showed in the team's last two wins. With an offense that was struggling in the second half, the Lady Red got numerous stops and steals thanks to their tenacious defensive effort.
The crucial moments of Tuesday night's win over the Lady Chiefs were spurred when the Lady Red turned up the defensive pressure in rallying from a six-point fourth quarter deficit.
"Coach's favorite thing about basketball is defense," Ball said. "I love defense, but I hate it in practice because we work extra hard on defense.
"All that work shows though and it's good," Ball said.
Byrd said that it's encouraging that his players have bought into his system, even though they did not know what to expect with a rookie coach at the high school level now running the show.
"They've responded well to what I want them to do and that's without them or me knowing, and we're both unsure, if it is going to work," Byrd said. "But they're out there busting their tail on defense and making things happen and not giving up."
That same tough-minded effort will be needed if Cocke County is to prove competitive in their next three games against Morristown West, Sevier County and Murfreesboro Oakland. Those three teams have won a combined 16 games thus far this season.
"We still have a long way to go though, we're not going to think that we're good yet," Byrd said.
But don't be surprised if they aren't good by the end of the year.
Because the Lady Red sure won't be surprised.
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