With the girls teams picked by the area coaches and media to battle it out for the 5-AAA crown and both boys squads listed among the top three, Cleveland High and archrival Bradley Central will take to the Jim Smiddy Arena hardwood Friday evening.
“It’s tough to play this kind of game right off the bat,” commented coach Jason Reuter, whose Bearettes have won the last two district championships with the Lady Raiders right on their heels.
Also on tap Friday evening, Rhea County will visit “The Stable” at Walker Valley, while Ooltewah will travel up Interstate 75 to McMinn County.
In District 5-AA play, Polk County will journey north on U.S. 411 to Madisonville to face Sequoyah tomorrow night.
Although Walker Valley’s wrestling team traveled to North Carolina for a pair of blowout victories Tuesday to open the new mat season, perennial state powers Cleveland and Bradley Central will give local fans their first chance to see the grapplers as both host home meets this evening.
After earning state runner-up finishes in both the TSSAA traditional and state duals last season, the Blue Raiders, under the direction of new head coach Josh Yost, will entertain Signal Mountain and Northwest Whitfield (Ga.) with action getting under way at 6 p.m.
The Bears will open coach Ben Smith’s second season at the helm an hour later with East Ridge as the challenger.
All three local mat teams will be in tournament action this weekend with the Mustangs and Bears at the Ooltewah Invitational, while the Raiders compete in the UTC Duals.
Picked to three-peat in the district preseason polls, the Bradley girls come into Friday’s fierce rivalry contest on the heels of having won their first three games to claim the Mountain View Inn Thanksgiving Tournament championship over the weekend, outscoring their opponents by a combined 63 points.
Coach Mindy Kiser’s Lady Raiders are currently 2-1 on the young season, having dropped their opener in Knoxville a little over a week ago before bouncing back with double-digit victories over Cumberland County, which made the TSSAA substate playoffs last season, and Hardin Valley, in the Murmaid Mattress Classic at the Raider Dome.
Although the 32-2 Bearettes handed 19-9 Cleveland a third of their losses last season, Bradley graduated a half dozen seniors, five of whom are playing in the college ranks now, while the Lady Raiders have everyone back, including Lincoln Memorial University signee Sydnie Anderson.
“Their girls (Cleveland) have been playing together for several years, like the group we just graduated,” expressed coach Reuter, whose squad is led by a pair of highly sought after 6-foot-2 junior posts — Brooke Copeland and Rebecca Reuter. The “Twin Towers” combined for 96 points, 55 rebounds and a half dozen blocked shots in the first three Bearette victories.
The boys’ game should be a barn burner as well. The last two seasons the teams have split their regular season contests with the Bears winning last season’s meeting in the district tournament, while the Blue Raiders did the same the year before.
Both teams played Knoxville Austin-East in the Murmaid Classic with Bradley blowing a late lead in a 69-65 defeat, while Cleveland edged the Roadrunners 70-69.
After a 15-13 mark last season, coach Jason McCowan’s Raiders are off to a 2-0 start, posting a 57-point blowout of Polk County in the Murmaid Classic opener.
Coach Kent Smith’s 17th Bear team rebounded from the season-opening defeat for a 52-51 thriller over Hardin Valley last Saturday. Bradley was playing without senior starter Caleb Cain, who was out with strep throat, in both games.
Cleveland was picked to win the district by the area coaches in the preseason poll and was second according to the media, while Bradley, which was 28-7 last season and came up just two points shy of a state tournament berth, was predicted to finish third by both groups.
Up on the north end of the county tomorrow night, new Rhea County boys’ coach Mike Phillips, the winningest coach in Plant High School (Fla.) history, makes his District 5-AAA debut against Walker Valley.
The Golden Eagles have won Phillips’ first three games, all on the road. Rhea downed Red Bank and Sweetwater by double digits and won by nine at Hixson.
Coach Bob Williams’ Mustangs are off to a 4-2 start with three straight wins over East Hamilton, White County and Morristown East to open the season but have dropped two of their last three.
After putting up 90 points in a season-opening win over East Hamilton, the Walker Valley girls have struggled to just one win in their last five games and now must open district play against a Rhea squad that is off to a 4-0 start.
Both Polk County teams are still looking for their first wins of the new hardwood season and will be facing Sequoyah squads that are sitting at .500 after six boys and four girls games.
All varsity girls’ games will tip off at 6 p.m. tomorrow, while the boys will follow around 7:30.