When Cannon County drew No. 2 Elizabethton in the TSSAA Class AA State Tournament opener many believed it was a tough draw for the Lionettes.
All draws at this point are tough but the match-up against the east Tennessee power is favorable in terms of the teams being almost mirror images.
No. 8 Cannon County (29-7) will continue its quest for the 2011 TSSAA Class AA Girls State Championship when it faces the Lady Cyclones (34-1) at MTSU's Murphy Center Thursday at 11:30 a.m. It is the Lionettes' 10th appearance in the state tournament but first since 1992.
"I think we have a really good chance of winning," said senior Emily Sissom. "Elizabethton is a very good basketball team, no doubt about that, but so are we, and I like our chances. They are not a big team. They are a lot like us."
Elizabethton has a sound point guard, two strong wing players and a formidable post. Its tallest player who sees action is 5-foot-9. The Lady Cyclones prefer to play an up-tempo style but are also solid in their half-court offense.
"The match-up is good from the standpoint that the two teams are very similar," Cannon County Head Coach Michael Dodgen said. "Our size is similar. They have a real good point guard that reminds me of Taylor Randolph at Upperman, just savvy and poised and does the right things. They have two good shooters and a good post. They play hard, physical and are well-structured in what they do. They run two or three offenses and the run them very well."
Limiting second shots and controlling transition will be keys for the Lionettes. Elizabethton averages 66.1 points per game and has scored 80 or more five times. The Lady Cyclones have scored 70 or more 12 times. They started the season with 27 straight wins before suffering their only loss, 60-57, at CAK. They reeled off six straight wins after the setback.
The Lionettes' defense will be tested; however, it has been a team strong suit throughout the season, but especially during the postseason. Cannon County has held opponents to 50 points or less 28 times this season and is 26-2 in those games. The defense, keyed by District 8-AA Defensive Player of the Year Taylor King, has limited foes to 41.3 points this season. The return of Lindsey Reed from early-season back surgery and the emergence of Abbey Sissom as a stopper at the point position has keyed the Lionettes' defensive tenacity down the stretch.
"Coach Dodgen has done a really good job of getting us scouting reports and film so we believe we have a general idea of what (Elizabethton) is going to do and how we should play them," King said. "We won't be in the dark. It is going to be a tough game but they are supposed to be at this point. It's just great to know we are still one of the teams with a chance to win it all."
Not only is Cannon County well-prepared for its opener, but also for the competition it will continue to face if the tournament run continues. The Lionettes have wins against four teams ranked in the Top 10 polls, including No. 1 McMinn Central. They either played or scrimmaged 12 teams that reached the Sub-state ... and they play in the always-tough District 8-AA.
"We are prepared for this," Dodgen said. "Just to get out of Region (4-AA) is an accomplishment. I'm proud of these girls. They have had several challenges put in front of them and they have grown from all of them. They are prepared for this."
The winner of the Cannon County-Elizabethton game will play in the Class AA semifinals Friday at 2:30 p.m. The Class AA State Championship game is set for Saturday at 4 p.m.