By DAVE LINK
Catholic freshman Sydney Mains had no idea how big an impact she would have during the 2020-21 basketball season.
Neither did her dad Travis, who was in his first year coaching the Lady Irish.
“She’s played on some high-level AAU teams and played against good competition,” Travis said, “but I didn’t think she’d score that many points this early because sometimes she likes to pass more than she likes to shoot.”
All that changed early in the season when senior guard Jeila Green got hurt Nov. 21 against Bearden and missed most of the season and sophomore guard Jazmine Williams also was hampered with an injury.
“Once Jeila got hurt and Jazzie was hurt, (Sydney) was kind of forced into having to take on more of a scoring role,” Travis said. “Sydney just grew her confidence and she just went out and basically got 20 points a game and got nine rebounds and was a leader for us the whole year. She was kind of tricked into having to do it, to say the least.”
Mains, a 5-10 guard/forward, played an astounding role for a high school freshman, averaging 19.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.1 steals, 1.5 assists, and 1.3 blocks.
She played in all 31 games and averaged 27.5 minutes per game, leading the Lady Irish (15-16) to the Division II-AA state championship game.
“I was surprised that I was able to consistently score 20 points a game and get as many rebounds as I did,” Sydney said. “I didn’t think that in a negative way, but I didn’t think I’d have such as impact.”
IMPROVING DURING AAU SEASON
Mains is currently playing for an AAU program, Finest Basketball Club (FBC) of the Under Armour organization, in the 15-under age division. Her team won a Southeast regional tournament last weekend in Alabama.
While Sydney is playing AAU ball, Travis Mains becomes another viewing parent in the highly competitive circuit. He can’t coach AAU while coaching high school, per TSSAA rules.
“The (FBC) team is pretty loaded,” Travis said. “We’ve got nine really good players. Six or seven kids are D-1 and the others are D-2 type kids. It’s a pretty strong team to put her with.”
Williams also plays on the team. She and Mains have played AAU ball together since the fourth grade when they were coached by Travis Mains.
Many of the other players on their current FBC team were on the 2020 team that played under Nike and posted a 45-2 record.
“It’s exciting because I’m getting to play with my teammates that I played with last year and getting back in the groove of playing with them,” Sydney said. “I’m having fun with it so far.”
Her current AAU team is coached by Makenzy Bennett, a student at East Tennessee State University who played for Mains when he was head coach at Daniel Boone High School in Gray.
Although Travis can’t coach Sydney during AAU games or practices, he still offers advice during their time off from travel ball.
“She’s got to work on her ballhandling and her foot speed, and she’s working on her jumping,” he said. “She’s trying to become a better athlete, just getting stronger and quicker, and keep on working on that shooting because that’s a skill that the colleges like about her. But just personally, she wants to get faster and stronger so she can play a two or three in college (shooting guard and small forward/wing) and not be stuck at a three or four (small or power forward) because she’ would be undersized at the four in college.”
Last season, Mains shot 35 percent from 3-point range (69 of 200) and made 51 percent (145 of 285) shots from 2-point range. She shot 68 percent (106 of 155) from the free-throw line.”
LOOKING BACK, MOVING FORWARD
It was a big 2020-21 season for the Mains family. One of Travis’ assistants at Catholic is his wife, Sydney’s mom Missey, who works at Catholic.
They moved to Knoxville after living in the Johnson City area, where Travis played basketball for Daniel Boone and was the girls head coach from 2013-18.
After some early-season adjustments – and getting players healthy – the Lady Irish got it going at the right time.
“I thought we could be pretty solid once we had Jeila back and had Jazzy healthy,” Travis said, “and the other kids really were forced into having to improve and play a lot of minutes against really good competition. It grew the team. All the things that happened at the first of the year gave us an edge at the end of the year.”
Catholic had a young roster last season with four freshmen, seven sophomores, two juniors and Green, who transferred from Science Hill in Johnson City for her senior season.
“I’ve made a lot of strong relationships with my teammates,” Sydney said. “We all worked toward the same goal and we all worked really hard every time we had practice. What we accomplished was pretty amazing for it being a new coach, a new team pretty much with the starting five having two freshmen on it. It’s just exciting.”
That would describe the future for the Mains family and Catholic.
Sydney would like another shot at a state championship.
“I’m going to try to take it step by step,” she said, “win the regions, then work our way there and hopefully get back to the state championship next year.”
Her long-term goals are clear.
“The goal is to go as high as I can in (Division I) and do what I can control and work as hard as I can,” she said.
Travis and Missey Mains will do their part.
“We coach her hard and she likes it,” Travis said. “Then we get in the car and talk about something else. We don’t talk about basketball. We just leave it where it’s at. We’ve done a pretty good job of doing that.”