It seems most high school basketball teams would be hurt by the graduation of all-state players. But for Bledsoe County's boys and Silverdale Baptist Academy's girls, they've picked up the slack for the all-stars they lack.
Consider these numbers: Last season Bledsoe County senior guard/forward Jamal Worthington averaged 17.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4.2 blocks and 3.7 steals per game. Silverdale senior point guard Mariah Massengill averaged 23.8 points, 4.7 assists and three steals per game.
Now consider these numbers: The Warriors and Lady Seahawks are a combined 38-4 this year without them.
"Mariah was very good," said Tim Thompson, promoted from assistant to head coach of Silverdale's girls after David Massengill resigned when his daughter signed with Eastern Kentucky. "You can't replace her. Everyone has to try and make up for what we lost."
Thompson said the defensive end of the floor is primarily where this year's team has improved.
"If we can hold a team to 40 points or less," said Thompson, whose team has done that in 15 of 22 games, "we feel like we can win the game. We lost about 30 points a game. We had to come up with it somewhere."
Guard Sloane Woodard, the team's only senior, is the Lady Seahawks' second-leading scorer at 12.6 points per game.
"We push defense," Woodard said. "Our defense has picked us up when we've had off nights on offense. Defense doesn't have off nights."
For all that Worthington did for the Warriors before heading off to play at Lee University, Bledsoe County senior guards Blake McCloud and Eric Hale agreed that the 6-foot-1 leaper's presence defensively around the goal would be missed most. But the two also knew the team still had strengths.
"I thought we were going to be pretty good," McCloud said of Bledsoe's 17-3 team that clinched the District 7-AA regular-season championship Friday by defeating Sequatchie County. "We shoot the 3 ball pretty well, and we just play hard. We just work hard to get better every day."
Said Hale: "We knew we were going to be good coming in. We didn't know how good, but we knew we were going to have a lot of speed and could outrun teams on the break. And all three of our guards can shoot."
Hale and McCloud lead the Warriors in scoring, each around 17 points per game. The third guard is junior Taylor Warden, whose playing time has increased greatly this season. So has his scoring average, up about nine points from the 6.5 per game he averaged last year.
Sophomore wing Megan Lewis leads the Lady Seahawks at 14.9 points per game. Junior point guard Sydney Smith is the new key ball-handler, and freshman reserve guard Emily Harkleroad has added 9.4 points per game. Post players Emily Skelton, a sophomore, and Lindsey Sims, a junior, have combined to average 16.5 rebounds per game, and they've totaled 38 blocks.
"They've been big inside for us," Thompson said. "They don't have to score a lot -- we'd like about 10 or 12 a game -- but giving us 15 rebounds a night helps us a lot."
The mostly undersized Warriors have another double-digit scorer in 6-4 junior Nathanial Collins at about 13 per game. Maybe more importantly, he's by far their leading rebounder at nearly 13 per game, and he's blocked more than 60 shots.
"Nathanial Collins has improved a lot," Bledsoe coach Mark Cagle said. "He had some injuries his freshman and sophomore years, but he's been a big help to us."
Senior role player Dylan Frechette completes the starting lineup.
"He's no 20-20 guy, but he doesn't make a lot of mistakes," Cagle said. "He's a good team player and he helps everybody. He's made some big shots, too. If somebody backs off of him thinking he can't shoot, he'll show them that he can."
Silverdale's girls have three District 5-A games remaining, beginning with hosting Grace Academy today at 1:30 p.m. However, the regular-season title may not be decided until Feb. 7 when they play at Arts & Sciences, which plays at Boyd-Buchanan today at 2:30. The Lady Patriots' lone district loss to date was 41-37 at Silverdale on Jan. 23.
"We always want to win district," Woodard said. "That's always a goal, no matter what. Personally, I'm excited about what we're doing because a lot of people doubted us. We're proving people wrong left and right."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or email@example.com.