published Friday, February 21st, 2014

Ringgold set for shocking return to state tournament

GHSA State Basketball First Round

Tonight

Class AAAA Girls

Carrollton (22-6) at Northwest Whitfield (23-5), 6

Heritage (22-7) at Fayette County (19-8), 6

Class AAA Girls

North Hall (18-9) at Sonoraville (21-6), 6

North Murray (12-16) at East Hall (14-14), 7

Ringgold (8-21) at Buford (26-2), 6

Saturday

Class AAAA Boys

Dalton (20-8) at Sandy Crek (20-8), 4

Class AAA Boys

White County (18-9) at Ringgold (18-8), 6

Lakeview-F.O. (18-10) at Dawson County (21-7), 7:30

North Murray (16-12) at Buford (23-5), 7:30

Class AA Girls

Spencer (12-14) at Calhoun (20-6), 4:30

Class AA Boys

Spencer (12-14) at Calhoun (22-2), 6

Dade County (18-9) at Manchester (21-4), 6

RINGGOLD, Ga. — On the surface an 8-21 record doesn't look like anything to brag about, but when a once-proud basketball program reaches the depth the Ringgold girls had fallen to, those eight wins — and an unlikely state playoff berth — tell quite the story.

Consider that the Lady Tigers not so long ago were perennial participants in the state playoffs under legendary coaches Danny Vest and Hazel Brown, so last season's 0-22 nightmare was almost unbearable for school administrators, the students and fans. It got so bad that the Lady Tigers, whose closest loss was 14 points, lost 75-4 to Northwest Whitfield and by 61 to Sonoraville.

Enter former Northwest coach and Ringgold alumna Margaret Stockburger, who jumped at the chance to revive the program after spending a year coaching at the middle school. Summer workouts began with the most basic of things atop Stockburger's list of priorities.

"The biggest thing was just how to play hard, which is one of the hardest things to teach girls," said Stockburger, whose team has no seniors and regularly plays four freshmen. "They've figured out what I want as far as defensive intensity, and once I saw how hard they were willing to work I knew good things were going to happen.

"Now, reaching the state tournament ... I didn't know that would be possible this year."

By mid-January Ringgold was just 2-15, but most of the losses were within 20 points. The team went 4-5 down the stretch and did the unthinkable at the Region 5-AAA tournament this past week by stunning No. 3 seed Adairsville to clinch a state playoff spot.

"We knew after we won that first game in the tournament we had a shot against Adairsville because we had played them close," Stockburger said. "I'm just really excited for the girls, because it's been a while since they've been in the state tournament."

As a fourth seed the Lady Tigers get the unenviable task of playing tonight at state power Buford, but the game's final result won't change the fact that the turnaround has begun.

"What Coach Stockburger and the kids have done here is really remarkable," Ringgold athletic director Robert Akins said. "She and the girls should be very proud of what they've accomplished."

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6296.

about Lindsey Young...

Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...

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