Young Bearettes ready to continue winning tradition
When Jason Reuter took over the Bradley Central girls' basketball program the squad didn't have any seniors on the roster.
As he prepares to start his fifth season as the Bearette head coach he finds himself in a similar situation, only this time he doesn't have a pair of very talented 6-foot-plus freshmen waiting to make their mark in the storied Bearette history.
"We've had a nice four-year run with a lot of talented players, not just the 'Twin Towers,'" he stated recently in reference to a total of nine former players currently in the collegiate ranks.
"I think we've been able to put Bearette basketball back in the state of mind of the tradition Coach (Jim) Smiddy built," Reuter said of the legendary coach who posted a national record 1,217 coaching victories, five state titles and a 90-game winning streak that garnered Bradley the 1975 and '76 state and national championships.
Having won 114 of his first 131 games at the Black-and-Gold helm, Reuter's .870 winning percentage is second only to Paul Cretton's lofty .866 mark (148-19 from 1993-99) in the program's history.
The current Bearette mentor is facing a tall order to continue the winning ways that have claimed the last four District 5-AAA and Region 3-AAA titles, plus made back-to-back TSSAA State Tournament appearance, but at 6-foot-8 Reuter isn't about to back down from the challenge.
With his 6-foot-3 daughter Rebecca now starting for Middle Tennessee and her 6-foot-2 best friend Brooke Copeland donning a Florida Lady Gator uniform, Coach Reuter will have to make some adjustments, as the Bearette have no 6-footer in the starting lineup and just one on the roster.
"We'll play the same style, because even with Becca and Brooke we were mainly a running team, but there's no substitute for height. We're going to have to work harder on the boards," he explained. "We have speed and a couple of very good shooters, but getting rebounds is key to starting our offense."
With eight of the 11 varsity players being ninth- and 10th-graders, Bradley's main returning experience comes from a pair of "super sophomores" and a freshman transfer who was a starter on a high school varsity team as an eighth-grader.
Emma Kate Brown and Halle Hughes were thrown into the fire last year as freshmen, and played key roles in the Bearettes making a second straight state tournament run.
"They are both the daughters of coaches (Tommy Brown and Richie Hughes), so they have grown up in the gym. They are both very 'headsy' players with high basketball IQs," proclaimed Coach Reuter. "'EK' got thrown into the starting lineup early on last year and Halle was our sixth man."
Both are 5-foot-9 guards with the ability to penetrate and show no fear in battling in the paint for rebounds.
"'EK' got a lot of experience last year and didn't back down once against the older players. She's probably our best perimeter shooter," the coach said of his top returning scorer.
Starting in 16 games, Brown average 8.6 points, hitting better than 54 percent (61-of-112) of her shots in front of the 19-foot arc, plus draining 26-of-76 (34 percent) 3-pointers to lead the team last season.
She also was tops on the squad in free-throw shooting (among players with more than 10 foul shots attempted), sinking 59-of-70 (84.3 percent).
Starting at the No. 3 spot, Brown was also third on last year's team in rebounding behind the "Twin Towers," clearing 94 ricochets, plus she handed out 46 assists and copped 27 steals.
The only concern Coach Reuter has about Brown going into her second varsity season is her health. "She's been in a boot for the last week," explained the coach about 10 days ago. "They're not sure if it's a stress fracture or tendinitis. She's gone back to the doctor for a second X-ray, and they may have to do an MRI to know for sure."
Stepping into the starting lineup on a full-time basis, Hughes will play the No. 2 guard spot and draws high praise from her coach.
"She's the Caroline Smith (the current Lee Lady Flame who was the District 5-AAA Player of the Year in 2012) of this team. She sets the tone and forces us to run. We have to turn her loose this year and not try to hold her back, like we did some last year."
"Both girls (Hughes and Brown) did a tremendous job as freshmen on a Class AAA state tournament team last year," he added. "They both play year-round on AAU teams, and the rewards show. They are sold out to basketball."
Hughes also shot 54 percent (59-of-110) from close range last year, she drained 12-of-32 "treys" (37.5 percent). While averaging 6.2 points per game, she also cleared 66 caroms, dished off 63 "dimes" and swiped 25 steals.
Scheduled to be the team's lone senior, point guard Chelsie Summars suffered her third ACL tear in the same knee during the offseason, effectively ending her prep hoops career.
"You hate to see that — three tears in the same knee before she's 17. She'd work so hard to get back after the first two surgeries, but there's no way she can come back again. She's still a big part of our program though," declared Coach Reuter. "With her in the lineup last year was the only way we were going back to the state tournament.
"She's a competitor, even if she can only lead from the sideline," he added. "She's like having another assistant coach. She has strong faith and has accepted God's plan for her. She'll always have a special place in my heart for what she's been through and what she is still trying to do to help our team."
With Summars on the shelf, Reuter has turned the court direction over to a surprising source — his tallest starter.
At 5-foot-11, freshman Rhyne Howard played multiple positions for East Hamilton's varsity squad while earning All-District and All-District Tournament honors last season, despite still being in middle school.
"It didn't take long for me to figure out she had the potential to be a good point guard," explained Reuter. "She handles the ball well, makes strong passes and has incredible court vision."
"Her mom (RJ Avery) played at (the University of) Florida. She's (Rhyne) another one that has grown up on basketball courts and plays AAU ball year-round," he added. "She can dribble, pass and shoot."
"She and Halle played volleyball, so we didn't have them for a while, but she's very smart and a fast learner. She's very confident in running our system. We're blessed to have her," the Bearette coach commented.
A pair of 5-foot-9 juniors are competing for the No. 4 starting slot — Julia Gaither and Katie Brown. Gaither started some last season, while Brown started every game this summer.
"Julia is the most aggressive player we have. She plays with a lot of tenacity and has the best anticipation skills on the team," Coach Reuter assessed. "She may not lead us in any (statistical) category, but she gives us a toughness and scrappiness we are going to have to have."
Gaither was in the starting lineup 18 of her 23 games last season, grabbing 66 rebounds, scoring 54 points, handing out 25 assists and coming up with 21 thefts.
Katie Brown played in 24 games, coming off the bench in each of them. She scored 33 points, cleared 21 caroms and dished off 14 helps.
"She has worked herself to improve her game. She can run and is tough. She has the intangibles you look for in a player," Coach Reuter commented.
"She's a blue collar worker that can shoot the 3-ball (5-of-13, tops on the team at 38.5 percent). If she doesn't start, she'll be our sixth man and play as much as the starters do."
Earning the starting post position for this year's Bearettes is 5-foot-10 sophomore Kailey McRee.
"She came in raw as a freshman, but going up against Becca and Brooke every day in practice, she didn't back down," the coach related. "She's as physical as any girl I've ever coached."
"Since we don't have the size we had the last four years, we'll have to front the post on defense and give help from the back side," Reuter added. "We went to Murfreesboro over the weekend [a few weeks ago] and she (McRee) didn't back down from those D-I girls over there.
"That weekend over there opened our eyes to see our weaknesses, and let us know what we need to work on," the coach explained. The Bearettes were without "EK" Brown in the lineup that weekend due to her foot injury.
Among others coming off the bench early for Bradley this season will be 5-foot-6 sophomore Sydney Morgan.
"She has worked on her perimeter game and impressed me with her shot," stated Coach Reuter. "She's worked as hard as anybody we've got and will do whatever we ask of her. She's smart and a great kid to coach. She'll be our 'seventh man.'"
Looking to help out in the paint, 6-foot-1 junior transfer Brittany Boring has "shown the ability to get rebounds and keep the ball up high, plus she can block shots."
"We've seen some improvement from her over the summer, but she's still learning our system," Reuter said of the former Tellico Plains player. "She had some health issues, but we are hoping as she improves she'll be able to help up in the post."
Also looking to contribute will be sophomores Savanna Davis (5-foot-8) and Haylee Pell (5-foot-5), plus 5-foot-10 freshman Missy Abbott.
No longer the hands-down favorite in the District 5-AAA race, the Bearettes were voted to finish second behind Walker Valley by the league coaches in a preseason poll, but edged out Cleveland High for the top spot in media voting.
"Walker Valley has five seniors coming back, plus they have more size and experience, so they should be voted No. 1," assessed Reuter, whose only three district losses since taking over the Bearette program have been dealt by the Lady Mustangs. "Cleveland only lost one senior and has a lot of size, so it should be a very tight race," he said.
"We'll fight to defend our (district and region) titles. Winning is expected," the coach proclaimed. "We want to get the most out of our ability. These girls want to uphold the Bearette tradition."
Before opening the 5-AAA race on Dec. 5 at home against Walker Valley for an early showdown, Bradley was tested by Farragut (28-3 last year; See story, this issue, on Friday night's opener), plus will take on Bearden (28-5 last year) Monday evening.
The Bearettes will host the Holiday Inn Express Classic Friday and Saturday, taking on a pair of prominent private school teams in Central Park Christian, out of Birmingham, Ala., and Chattanooga's Hamilton Heights.
"We haven't softened our schedule. We'll get tested early," Reuter related. "Despite being as young as we are, this team has the ability to improve throughout the season. If we stay healthy, we will only get better as the year goes on."
The veteran coach said another key to Bradley's success lies with his assistant coaches.
"Katie Frazier was an All-American at Lee and has been with the team since I took over five years ago and Amy Tinsley, a former Bearette, is in her second season with us. They are two fine Christian role models the girls can look up to. We are blessed beyond measure to have them working with us.
"It's going to be different without Brooke and Becca out there, but I'm excited to see what the future holds," Reuter declared.
Read more: Cleveland Daily Banner - Winter Sports Preview oung Bearettes ready to continue winning tradition
Bradley splits home openers
Both Bradley Central basketball teams netted 54 points in their season openers Friday, but the results were split.
The new-look Bearettes got off to a slow start but were able to hold Farragut to single-digit scoring in each period to claim a 54-28 victory.
Facing their second set of Knoxville teams in a four-day span, both Bradley teams will be in action Monday evening when Bearden comes to Jim Smiddy Arena.
The Bearettes will also host the Holiday Inn Express Classic Friday and Saturday with McMinn Central, Hamilton Heights and Central Park Christian, out of Alabama.
After missing their first five shots Friday evening, the Bradley girls got the initial basket of the new season on an offensive rebound putback by newcomer Ryhne Howard three minutes into the contest.
The Bearettes (1-0) went up 8-5 a few minutes later on a Katie Brown 3-pointer, before Farragut (0-3) scored the final four points of the frame for a 9-8 edge.
The hosts took control of the contest in the second period with half of their eight 3-pointers on the night as part of a 14-3 run and a double-digit halftime advantage.
Bradley came out strong after the intermission and increased their lead with an 18-7 scoring edge in the third period before finishing off the win a 14-9 run in the final eight minutes.
"We really didn't know what to expect tonight, but the effort was there and we played smarter as we went along," assessed head coach Jason Rueter, who is starting his fifth season directing the program.
"We have a lot of new faces, plus we were missing one of our starters with EK (Emma Kate Brown) in a boot," he added. "Our bench gave us some good minutes and we did a good job against their big girl (6-foot-2 Jaiden McCoy)."
With Bradley's 6-foot-2 "Twin Towers" graduated, the star of the night was Howard, who transfered in after playing varsity as an eighth-grader last year at East Hamilton.
The 5-foot-11 freshman is playing point guard for the Black-and-Gold and ripped the chords for 24 points, including a trio of 3-pointers.
"Rhyne's performance doesn't surprise me. I've seen that she's capable of this kind of game," commented Coach Reuter. "She did a good job of running our offense and only had one turnover."
Along with shooting 6-for-10 in front of the arc and 3-for-6 beyond it, Howard cleared nine rebounds, dished out four assists and copped a trio of steals.
Julia Gaither helped out with 10 points in the victory on 4-for-7 shooting from the field. The junior also swiped five thefts.
Sophomore Halle Hughes added nine points, three caroms, dished off a trio of "dimes," and snatched a pair of steals.
Brittany Boring, a 6-foot-1 transfer from Tellico Plains, came off the bench to clear five rounds for the victors.
As a team, the Bearettes shot 38 percent from the field, including 8-for-21 from beyond the 19-foot arc, plus won the rebounding battle by a 37-30 margin.
Both teams struggled from the free throw line as Bradley sank just 6-of-19, while the Lady Admirals netted only 7-of-21.
The Bearette defense held Farragut to just 10-of-40 shooting from the field and forced 24 turnovers.