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Hoops teams have historic campaigns

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It has been a long time since Cannon County basketball enthusiasts have had as much to celebrate.

For the first time in 37 years both the Lionettes and Lions won the regular season district title in the same campaign in 2013-14.

The last time both teams captured regular season titles in the same year was 1976-77. In fact, the Lions won their first regular season district championship since 1997-98.

The Lionettes (27-3), who moved up to No. 1 in the latest Associated Press Top 10 Class AA state poll, clinched the title outright with their win against Upperman Tuesday (2/4).

The Lions (24-6) moved up to No. 6 in the most recent Class AA state poll and shared the title with Livingston Academy and Upperman.

Michael Dodgen, Lionettes Head Coach and CCHS Athletics Director, said dual championships in the same season are
difficult to obtain.

“I think the fans need to embrace it because it doesn’t happen all the time,” Dodgen said. “It’s not something you expect
to happen but you appreciate it when it does.”

Lions Head Coach Matt Rigsby, who was a sophomore on Cannon County’s last district championship team in 1998, said hard work and dedication by players in both programs are keys to championships.

“I’m so proud of the great kids we have in both programs and they receive great support,” Rigsby said. “We have great fans and I’m proud of the fan bases we see night-in, night-out. I’m proud that these great kids are rewarded by the people that show up to support them. I’m glad both teams could have championship seasons.”

But that’s the past now. Regular season titles are nice but they mean little, other than seeding, in the postseason.
Both teams must now turn their attention to must-win first-round games in the District 8-AA Tournament at White
County to keep their outstanding seasons alive.

The Lionettes are the No. 1 seed and face No. 8 York (4-20) Tuesday at 6 p.m. The Lions are the No. 3  seed and face No. 6 DeKalb County (16-13) Thursday at 7:30 p.m. In past years with seven teams in the district the regular-season title meant more because it earned the champion not only a No. 1 seed, but also an automatic berth into the Region 4-AA Tournament.

Not anymore. With Macon County joining the fray in 2013-14 it created an eight-team league, meaning no byes and four first-round elimination games. First-round winners automatically punch their ticket into the Region 4-AA Tournament, also being held at White County High School in Sparta.

By virtue of their No. 1 seed the Lionettes face a York team it has defeated by a combined 115 points in two regular-season meetings. The Lionettes won 80-15 at York and walloped the Lady Dragons 83-33 in the second meeting.

Still, Dodgen has been around long enough to know nothing is certain. Especially now. “Now this is the most important time of the season,” Dodgen said.

“With no byes every game is important. I don’t care if you are playing York or whoever. This is an elimination game. If you are not ready to play and take care of business your season is done.”

MTSU signee Abbey Sissom said even though the Lionettes won the regular season championship they still have not achieved their most significant goals. “It is a good accomplishment for us but it is not even close to what we want,” said Sissom, the District 8-AA Player of the Year.

“We want to be playing in the state tournament in March. Everyone is 0-0 now so you can’t take anything for
granted.” Particularly in District 8-AA, regarded as one of the top AA girls districts in Tennessee.

“This district is by far, from top to bottom, the best in the state and that’s why every game is so important with no byes in the tournament,” Dodgen said. “I think there are five teams that could win the district tournament when it starts.” Dodgen cited Cannon County, Livingston Academy, Central, Smith County and Upperman as those top five contenders. “Anyone of those five teams could win the tournament so it’s going to be a good tournament for the fans to watch.” If the Lionettes win their opener they will play in the second semifinal Saturday at 7 p.m. The girls championship and consolation games are Monday at 6 and 7:30 p.m., respectively. The Lions face an entirely different situation in terms of competition.

Cannon County ended in a three-way tie on the boys side. Of the three, the Lions dropped to the No. 3 seed based on the tie-breaker. As a result, the Lions face not only a stronger foe, but also its chief rival in neighboring DeKalb County.

“We have to take care of business against DeKalb,” Rigsby said. “We have some fine-tuning to do, especially on defense. There is no tomorrow. It’s now a one game season for everyone in the first round so you have to come ready to play. Obviously, we know our opponent well and they know us well.”

The Lions swept the regular-season series, winning 73-49 at DeKalb and 67-48 in Woodbury. Cannon County is 4-3 in its last seven games, including back-to-back grueling losses against Upperman and Livingston Academy in the final two games.

Despite the two tough setbacks, Rigsby said his team is better prepared for the postseason having played those games. “We have been in a tournament atmosphere the last several games so that should help us,” Rigsby said. “We virtually played in a championship game at Livingston so these situations will only help us when we get into the postseason.” Although Cannon County dominated the season series against DeKalb, senior Tommy Mitchell knows it is win or go home now.

“The fact that it is tournament time adds more to the games because we all know the significance of it,” Mitchell said. “Playing our rival makes it even more interesting. I’m sure they would love to end our season in the first round. We have to work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

If the Lions survive DeKalb they will play in the first semifinal game Saturday at 5:30 p.m. The boys consolation and championship games are Tuesday at 6 and 7:30 p.m., respectively.

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