By TONY STINNETT, Courier Sports Editor
Two of the three Class AA Miss Basketball Finalists are in the state tournament.
Cannon County's Abbey Sissom, a MTSU signee; and Creek Wood's Rachel Bell, a Vanderbilt, signee; reached the tournament. Grainger standout Allison Hodge's team was eliminated by Fulton in a Sectional.
Sissom is a three-time finalist. Bell is up for the award for the second time. Cannon County and Creek Wood are in the same portion of the bracket, setting up a potential semifinal game between the two squads.
MTSU women's coach Rick Insell, a Woodbury native, has to beaming as two players from his 2014 signing class will be playing at Murphy Center for the state tournament. Sissom joins Bradley Central's Rebecca Reuter as Lady Raider signees playing on their future home court.
Livingston Academy Head Coach Lesley Riddle will be glad to see Sissom playing for someone other than Cannon County.
"Abbey is phenomenal," Riddle said. "You set up your entire team defense against one person."
Riddle said she's actually glad to see both Abbey and her older sister, Emily, out of Cannon County. Emily was a four-year starter who scored more than 2,000 points in her career and helped lead the Lionettes to the 2011 state tournament. She also was an All-State performer and still holds the state record for most career 3-pointers.
"I'm just glad they are both gone," Riddle joked. "You finish against a great player and you have seen them for the last time and you think, 'I will never have to play against them again or prepare for them again.'"
Of course, there is the potential of one more game against Livingston Academy this year but it would have to occur in the state championship game.
Cannon County has already set the single-season record for most wins with 33 in 2014. The previous record was 30 in 2011 when the Lionettes reached the state semifinals before falling to eventual champion McMinn Central.
Abbey Sissom has 855 points this season and is within reach of Julie Powell's single-season mark. Sissom is second on the career scoring list with 2,593 points entering the state tournament. Powell is the career scoring leader with 2,894 points.
Lionettes Head Coach Michael Dodgen snagged career win 285 when the Lionettes beat Signal Mountain in the first round of the Region 4-AA Tournament. He has 287 career wins.
The King and Sissom families have been part of several of Cannon County's state tournament trips. Karen King, who is principal at West Side; and Suzette Sissom, who is a teacher and head girls basketball coach at Woodland; both played in the 1987 and 88 state tournament.
Each of them has two daughters that have reached the grand stage for Tennessee girls basketball.
Emily Sissom played in the 2011 state tournament. Abbey Sissom has played in three state tournaments (2011, 13, 14). Taylor King played in the 2011 state tournament and Autumn King will debut as a sophomore in 2014.
BEAST ON BOARDS
Macy Clements doesn't steal the headlines and she isn't one to receive all the accolades but her game is a big reason the Lionettes have turned in a memorable season.
Clements, who is 5-foot-8, has collected 280 rebounds this season. She has several double-figure rebounding games. Clements collected a game-high 14 rebounds in the Sectional win at Sequoyah.
Her rebounding and defense are crucial to the team's success and Clements did it as good, or better, than anyone in District 8-AA throughout the season.
Taylor Warren is one of five seniors on the Cannon County Lionette roster. Warren isn't on the floor as much as the other four seniors but her contributions to the team can't be overlooked.
She has proven to be a great leader. It is not easy to go through all the practices and sacrifice time when the minutes are not prevalent. Warren has proven to be a team player and that quality should be infectious.
Often, players worry too much about self gratification and not enough about the team's success. Warren is to be commended for her selflessness and proving that being part of a team is rewarding and gratifying no matter your role.
Cannon County always has a great fan following but it will likely have its greatest of the season in Murfreesboro this week.
Cannon County High School is the second-closest school to MTSU's Murphy Center - the state tournament venue - of the 24 teams playing in Class A, AA or AAA. Cannon County High School is 19.9 miles from Murphy Center. Blackman, a Class AAA participant in Murfreesboro, is 7.9 miles from the "Glass House."
"Our fans are great and we do expect to have a big crowd," Dodgen said. "Our fans have packed the gym. There has not been a time when we have played during this postseason when the other team has had more fans in the gym than us. Think about that. We played five games in Sparta and one in Madisonville, which is a three-hour drive, and they followed us. Our fans are great and our players appreciate it more than people probably know. It means a lot when you run out of that ramp and your entire community is there behind you."
LIKE FATHER, LIKE…
Reaching the state tournament is never easy and can't be taken for granted, but Cannon County has been blessed in recent years with back-to-back trips and this year marks the third time in four years the Lionettes have been in the state quarterfinals.
Lionettes Head Coach Michael Dodgen has been on the bench for all three state tournament trips. His father, Donald, was a longtime coach in east Tennessee for 36 years. Donald won more than 700 games and reached the state tournament just once when he led McMinn County there in 1982.
"As a coach this is where you want to be because your team has a shot," Michael Dodgen said. "This is the ultimate. You want to get on the big stage and you want to play at the 'Glass House.' I'm blessed and fortunate. I'm so proud of my kids and thankful for the community support we have in Cannon County."
Winning the 2014 Class AA state title would enable Cannon County's current run to be considered a dynasty in the modern era.
The Lionettes have reached the state tournament three times in four years. It is the second-best run in program history. Cannon County advanced to the state tournament three straight years from 1987-89, winning the program's first state championship in 1989. Cannon County lost in the title game in 1987 and 88.
These Lionettes are looking to bring home the gold ball for only the second time in school history. Ironically, it would occur in the 25th anniversary season of the 1989 championship.
"Three times in four years is great," Sissom said. "I know we feel really blessed."
Riddle has coached and played in the state tournament at Livingston Academy. Though the Lady Wildcats are an annual contender, Riddle said every trip is special because every team is different.
"You never take it for granted," Riddle said. "It is so hard just to get here. There are so many great coaches and players that never get the opportunity to come and play at the state tournament. Every year (we make it) I remind myself of how fortunate I am when we do get here."
Two teams from District 8-AA are among the state tournament field but no one who follows the league is surprised.
The district generally has two teams reach the region finals and those teams generally feel good about their chances of advancing in Sectionals due to the competition within the loaded league.
For the second time in as many years Cannon County and Livingston Academy are the representatives.
"I am never surprised when someone from our district is (at the state tournament)," Riddle said. "I'm kind of surprised is has been consistently us and Cannon County because the others are so good. It could have been two of several teams from our district this year. Smith County and Central Magnet has great seasons and Upperman kept scaring everybody.
Don't forget about DeKalb County and its 20 wins in fifth place. Sixth-place Macon County was last year's Class AA runner-up.
"I say it every year, that District 8-AA is the toughest AA district in the state," Dodgen said. "District 8 and District 13 generally have two teams make it. They are just tough districts with a lot of good teams. When you have that type of competition night-in, night-out, you are going to be ready when you get to the postseason."
Seven of the eight teams in the Class AA quarterfinals were ranked in the final Associated Press Top 10 poll. The only team in the field that was not ranked is Martin Westview (24-12).
No. 2 Cannon County, No. 3 Elizabethton, No. 4 Creek Wood, No. 6 Dyersburg, No. 7 MLK, No. 8 Fulton and No. 10 Livingston Academy are in the field of eight.
No. 1 Grainger was eliminated by Fulton in a Sectional game.
The two highest-scoring Class AA teams in the state were Cannon County and Elizabethon. The Lionettes average 68.2 points per game and Elizabethton averages 67.1. The only team in the state to average more than either of those two teams w