High School

Lady Huskies Riding High Heading Into Fourth Straight State Tournament

Lady Huskies Riding High Heading Into Fourth Straight State Tournament
Written by 
Tate Russell
March 8, 2023

North Greene’s basketball season has certainly had its ups and down as the Lady Huskies have both overcome and stumbled on hurdles throughout the last three-and-a-half months, but now they are riding high as they begin state tournament play on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’ve used the phrase roller coaster to describe this season several times,” Buchanan said. “We have had ups and downs, and I don’t know if we have played a great game at any point. But the kids come to work everyday with a positive attitude. Even though the results have been up and down coaching this crew has been a pleasure. Of all my 22 years coaching, I think this year has to be one of my favorites.”

North Greene has advanced to the state tournament for the fourth year in a row and will take on Van Buren County in the Class 1A quarterfinals. Tip off is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. central time at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro.

The Lady Huskies are in a place where maybe no one outside the nine who huddle in their locker room thought they could be at the beginning of the year. Then those odds got even longer as injuries seemed to sideline everyone on the roster at some point. The death knell might have been when senior point guard Zoe Sander broke her leg in the last week of the regular season, but the Lady Huskies simply kept working.

“Coming into the year Cloudland had everybody back, but some injuries down the stretch may have cost them. Hampton we knew was going to be very good, and we lost four of our top rotation girls,” Buchanan said. “Girls who had been three and four-year starters, two of them were All-State selections. Add to that you had Washburn and Cosby coming up. I think people saw what we were losing and what everyone else had back, and before we even had any injury issues people pegged us as the fifth or sixth best team in the region. In a lot of people’s minds it was a foregone conclusion that somebody else was going to state, but for these kids to pull this off is just them reaping the benefits of all that they have sown.”

While North Greene’s run to a fourth straight state tournament was improbable to say the least, the Lady Huskies are not just happy being there. North Greene is in it to win this week.

“We don’t want to be satisfied. We are still going to try to compete this week and see if we can’t win again. We’ve already won one game nobody expected us to be playing in, so now let’s go shock people some more,” Buchanan said.

The Eaglettes will be a tough opponent on Wednesday with a pair of towering posts in senior Greta Rigsby and freshman Cara Mills, but the Lady Huskies defensive focus will be on point guard Layla Bouldin who can score from anywhere on the floor.

In the sectionals against Clarkrange Bouldin scored 27 points, in the region 3-1A championship she scored 20 against Whitwell and in the region semifinals against Copper Basin she poured in 43 points.

“Van Buren County is really big,” Buchanan said. “They have two six-footers, and they also have an exceptional point guard. She’s left handed and shoots well from the outside. She had 27 in the sectional game, and I feel like she is of the caliber of Pike from Oneida and Ramsey from Unaka. She’s a high-level player. They don’t play a lot kids and they don’t play a super-fast pace. They just want to control the boards and control the paint. We feel like we have identified some things that we think will help us be successful against their defense. It will be a huge challenge, but you can’t get this far and expect anything to be easy.”

Van Buren County is making its second consecutive trip to the state tournament and third trip to Murfreesboro in program history. The Eaglettes have never won a state tournament game.

To counter Van Buren’s size inside North Greene will count on Hannah Miller, who has been a welcome addition to the lineup after long absence while dealing with a broken wrist. Now she and Haley Bailey are quite the formidable duo of their own in the paint. Miller is coming off a 10-point, 14-rebound performance in the sectionals.

“We survived without (Hannah), and that is a testament to our players,” Buchanan said. “We had to slide Cambell Gaby inside and we were very undersized in the post. But when we got Hannah back it was like she had never been gone. Her improvement has helped our team overall improve. With her and Haley Bailey in the post I think we have something to build around in the future.”

North Greene’s answer to Bouldin’s scoring prowess will come largely from Sonya Wagner. In her senior season Wagner has become one of the area’s most dangerous scorers, but she does much more than that. The Lady Huskies will match her up on the other team’s top guard, and since Sanders went down she has had to be the top ball handler as well. If North Greene is going to advance to the semifinals, Wagner will have to be a big part of it.

“It doesn’t get any better than Sonya Wagner,” Buchanan said. “We have asked so much if her this year. She is guarding the other team’s best player and she is having to labor to get the ball up the floor. She has handled all of that with such class. It’s unbelievable what she has been able to do. In this game I just think she needs to trust her teammates. She has a good feel for the game, and knows when to go into attack mode. She is the best shot maker I’ve ever had, and her creativity I think sets her apart.”

Along with Wagner, Grace Buchanan and Cambell Gaby are part of a senior group that become the first athletes from North Greene to advance to the state tournament four years in a row.

“I know lots of schools have groups of kids that work hard, and they don’t get to see it pay off,” coach Buchanan said. “But to see it happen for this group, and for them to get to go to four state tournaments, its almost like you can see the hand of God over this group. He has blessed them, and I’m a beneficiary of that because I have gotten to be around them the last several years.”

On the same side of the state tournament bracket as North Greene and Van Buren County are Peabody and McKenzie who play at 6 p.m. Wednesady. On the opposite side of the bracket Hampton will play Pickett County at 1:15 p.m. and Dresden will play Wayne County at 2:45.

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