When the Nolensville girls basketball players met for wings last week – one last team gathering, for now – they were scheduled to still be playing on the court.
The Lady Knights advanced to the Class AA state semifinals for the first time in their young history last Thursday with a 59-44 win over Melrose. That same day, national moves were made to slow the spread of the coronovirus, or COVID-19. The TSSAA first responded by moving forward with the tournament and limiting fans before postponing play completely – all in the same evening. Nolensville went from playing Friday for a title shot against top-ranked Macon County to being postponed and possibly cancelled altogether.
“It’s hard to digest,” said Nolensville coach Chris Ladd.
The TSSAA said this week that they are “not giving up” on finishing the girls tournament and playing the boys tournament, but the situation remains fluid with a ton of variables to work out.
“The athletes need to know we are trying to save their season,” TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress said.
Ladd said he was encouraged to hear the TSSAA’s stance.
“It may just be wishful thinking, but it gives us some hope to finish the season and gives us something to look forward to during this strange time,” Ladd said. “We just want to play. We were decisively the district champs, decisively the region champs, so we felt like we were primed and ready to give it our best shot. Macon County is a stud team, but we were looking forward to getting a shot at them and a shot at that gold ball.”
His team can't practice together due to CDC guidelines, TSSAA policies and school rules due to the Coronavirus, but Ladd said his team will be encouraged to continue shooting and running "on their own" during this difficult time.
Nolensville junior Zoe Piller scored 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting last week and senior Grace Baird added 16 with four 3-pointers in the Lady Knights win last week. Seniors Sydney Mickulin (14 rebounds) and Parker Leftwich (8 assists) also had big games in the school’s state debut.
The Lady Knights were following in the footsteps of a banner year in girls’ athletics at NHS. The school is just in its fourth year, but produced a state volleyball championship in October and played for the Class AA girls soccer title in December.
“Our school has been pretty successful and it’s been exciting to be a part of,” said junior Caymin Ladd, coach Ladd’s daughter and a middle blocker on the Lady Knights volleyball team. “Last week was our last run with all our seniors. … After that last game, we left thinking we will see you tomorrow and work on our game plan, and then, we just ended. It didn’t feel right without any closure.”
Ladd, who added a couple 3-pointers against Melrose, said her team has been building for this season’s title run. The Lady Knights reached the sectional round in 2017, were up-ended in the Region 6-AA semifinals last year – after losing Piller to a knee injury – and swept through the District 12-AA regular season and regional with ease this year.
“It really was a, ‘Let’s go and take that state title’ feeling,” she said.
The girls may still get their shot, but it won’t be until mid-May at the earliest. The TSSAA made it known Tuesday that they are keeping the door open to finish the tournaments and continue with spring sports, but daily changes in the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic constantly reshape policies.
Childress said Rutherford County is onboard to have available hotel space if necessary through the very beginning of June for high school athletics. He said they are actively in talks with MTSU and other sites as potential tournament hosts if the state's basketball tournament can get underway again. More about that story can be four by clicking here.
This week, meeting up for wings let alone practicing or playing together as team goes against current CDC guidelines of not gathering in groups of 10 or more. Those guidelines are in place for eight weeks according to the latest release, or until mid-May.
“Life is going to happen, we are just going to have to deal with it,” coach Ladd said.