By Tim Chambers
Trying to find the top four stories of the 2016-17 basketball season was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It was nearly impossible, but there were a few special moments that make up our quartet.
Unfortunately there were no marquee wins by either team, although the girls did get three conference victories, their first in more than two years.
The girls’ side had no dominant teams after the departure of head coach Lynn Dugger and the Marosites twins at Elizabethton.
Happy Valley won the District, who was defeated soundly at home by Sullivan South, the same team that Johnson County knocked off at home.
Only one team out of the conference made it into the second round of the regional. Happy Valley was defeated soundly by Grainger County in the semifinals.
It was much different on the boys’ side.
Sullivan East is headed to the state tournament, a team that needed overtime to defeat Johnson County at home and trailed by one heading into the fourth quarter at East.
East and Elizabethton tied for the conference title while Unicoi finished in third, one game off the pace. Happy Valley had its best team in several years, making the league strong from top to bottom.
Michala Cretsinger was able to reach the 1000-career-point club against Happy Valley. She needed 15 going into the game and scored that same number in the first half.
Unfortunately, no place like home this year (Most memorable games)
The curse must be lifted when it comes to overtime games inside of Ray Shoun Gymnasium next season. Johnson County finished 0-4 when games went into the extra period in 2016-17.
Overtime losses to Sullivan East, Unicoi County and Happy Valley showed just how close the Longhorns were to being one of the elite teams in the league. They also lost a 64-60 contest to Hampton inside of Ray Shoun Gymnasium.
But there is good news.
They return all five starters next season and eight of their top nine players.
The Longhorns did have some shiny moments despite the lack of team success.
Sophomore Blake Atwood had a good year averaging 14 points per game and nearly five assists and three steals. He certainly is in the running for the most outstanding underclassmen award when the league announces that upon the elimination of Sullivan East.
Freshman Taylor Parsons also showed plenty of promise in the final games. During a two game stretch, she collected 37 rebounds and blocked six shots in varsity action.
Parsons has won several beauty pageants over the years but her play inside the paint has definitely been a thing of beauty.
Having success in sports sometimes requires making tough decisions. Johnson County elected to hire one of the best veteran coaches in East Tennessee when they chose Leon Tolley to be the head girl’s coach last week.
Tolley averaged 21 wins per season in his seven years as head coach at Hampton. His Lady Bulldogs compiled an overall record of 156-81.
He took the Dogs to a pair of state tournaments in 2009 and 2013 and his 2009 team recorded the school’s first ever win in girls basketball at the state.
During his seven seasons he won three conference titles, two Districts, one Regional and appeared in two sub-states.
That’s unchartered waters for the Lady Longhorns’ basketball program. But rest assured they chose the right captain to guide their ship.
There have been much better storybook endings in past years but this quartet of events tops the 2016-17 basketball season.