How good is Class AAA girls basketball in the mid-state area this year?
"You could be ranked among the top four or five teams in the state, but you don't make the state tournament because you can't get out of the district and region."
That's the way Coach Jennifer Grindstaff of Murfreesboro Oakland summed it up.
Fortunately for her, the Lady Patriots just happen to be one of the best teams in the state, and they will be among the squads trying to unseat another Murfreesboro team, Riverdale, from the perch of state champ.
"In our district, you'd better bring your 'A' game every night, or you're going to get beat," the veteran Oakland coach said as her team prepares for an engagement at the Landair Ladies' Classic the week after Christmas.
Oakland hasn't been to the Classic since the second year of its existence, the 1990 event.
Grindstaff has been at Oakland as coach since the 1993-1994 season, except for one year when she left to be an assistant coach at MTSU. The Patriots have been to the state tournament twice in her coaching tenure. She also took Class A Moore County to the state tournament twice during her days there prior to coming to Oakland.
The team was 8-0 as of last week, and they will be one of the pre-tournament favorites to win it all.
Their hopes were quietened a bit when 6-1 freshman Shelby Gibson, who is already being recruited by Tennessee and many other Division 1 schools, sustained a broken bone in her foot.
"That was obviously a huge setback for us," Grindstaff said. "She's quite a prospect."
Still, the Patriots have plenty more weapons in their arsenal, including 5-11 senior forward Ellen Riggins, who has signed with Samford University. The other senior in the lineup is Sylvia Barnes, who at 5-3 plays the two-guard position.
The player that makes the team go in the high-powered offense is 5-9 junior point guard Emily Eubank.
Kaitlin Oliver, a 5-9 junior, is also a starter. Kiara Howse, a 5-9 junior, has taken over the spot in the lineup vacated by the injured Gibson.
Two more seniors on the team, 6-1 post Keoshia Norris and 5-8 post Alexia Cairo, look for playing time.
"I've never been to the Greeneville tournament, but I've always heard it's one of the best in the state," the coach noted. "Their reputation for treating the kids well and the fan support is well-known. We were honored to be invited. It looks like a competitive bracket from top to bottom, and we want to come away a better ball team."