Bearden and Greeneville are regulars in TSSAA girls’ state soccer tournaments.
Each is making its 11th trip to the state tournament, starting Wednesday in Chattanooga.
Each is seeking a fifth state championship Saturday at Chattanooga’s Red Wolves Stadium.
Kingston, meanwhile, doesn’t have such a storied history in girls’ soccer.
The Lady Yellow Jackets will be making their first trip to state since 2003 and their third trip overall. They are 0-2 in state tournament matches.
Only one thing matters now, though.
Kingston made it to state and joins Bearden and Greeneville in representing the 5Star Preps coverage area this week.
Here is a look at each team’s quarterfinal matchup Wednesday and some the storylines that go with it:
BEARDEN BLINDED BY DRAW
Not again. You’ve got to be kidding.
When the Class AAA bracket was announced Sunday morning, Bearden coaches, players, and fans were stunned to see their quarterfinal matchup Wednesday (4 p.m.) at Chattanooga Christian School.
The Lady Bulldogs (19-0-1), seeking their third consecutive state title, play Germantown Houston (16-0-2) in a match pairing the two tournament favorites.
It’s a similar scenario to last spring when Bearden’s boys drew Brentwood in their Class AAA state quarterfinal match pitting the top two teams in the state.
The Bulldogs were ranked No. 2 in the nation in the MaxPreps computer rankings and Brentwood was No. 3; Brentwood beat Bearden 1-0 on its way to the state championship.
Questions swirled about how the TSSAA’s bracket selection worked last spring – just like now.
TSSAA assistant executive director Matthew Gillespie answered it Tuesday morning.
“Every sport’s just a blind draw,” Gillespie said. “Literally, we draw numbers out of a hat or a box or whatever we can. We do have a bingo hopper that’s used sometimes too, but yes, it is a blind draw. The only guarantee is that if two teams in the same region qualify, then they are put in the opposite sides of the bracket.”
Gillespie said Bearden’s draw last spring and now is quite a coincidence, but only that.
“One, how often are you going to have boys’ and girls’ teams from the same school be so good?” he said. “And they’re both dominant, obviously. And then two, to have them in the same calendar year meet up with the other best team in the state in the first round.
“It’s funny because people are always like, ‘Oh, they fixed the bracket, they did this, they did that,’ and we get it in basketball too, like the No. 1 and 2 teams in the state (playing in the first round). I’m like, ‘If we were going to fix the bracket, would we not guarantee that those teams wouldn’t meet until the finals to keep those teams alive as long as possible?’ Like if you’re going to fix the bracket, that’s how you would do it because that’s where most of the interest is.”
When told of Gillespie’s comments about it being a blind draw, Bearden coach Ryan Radcliffe replied, “Wow. I’ll be interested to hear what (Gillespie) said.”
“Me, I’m kind of just taking the stance, no comment,” Radcliffe continued. “It’s one of those where any comment’s not going to change anything or help. Ultimately, I think our girls are excited. They want to play Houston. I want play Houston.
“I think it’s going to be a great matchup. I think it’s going to be a tough first-round game for us, but I also think that we’re up for the task. Really, we haven’t brought it up much. The girls seem to be excited for the opportunity to go out and be tested against the best in the first round. Hopefully we’ll be ready and have a different result than we did with the boys’ season.”
Bearden’s girls are ranked No. 2 in the state by MaxPreps behind Chattanooga Baylor – despite the Lady Bulldogs’ 3-1 victory over Baylor on Oct. 5 – while Houston is ranked No. 3.
In the United Soccer Coaches’ national rankings, updated Oct. 17, Bearden is No. 3, Baylor is No. 13 and Houston is No. 21.
Houston features junior Ellett Smith, a Vanderbilt commit who scored both goals in the 2-1 victory over Collierville in the Region 8-AAA championship.
Smith’s cousin, senior Lucy Smith, is also a top player for Houston.
Radcliffe knows all about the Smiths.
The Lady Bulldogs defeated Houston 3-1 in last year’s state championship match; Bearden also beat Houston 3-1 in the 2021 final.
“She’s phenomenal,” Radcliffe said of Ellett Smith. “We’ve known about her since last year. She was a big piece of what we were watching, and this year too, and her (cousin), Lucy, too. They’re both fantastic athletes and fantastic players. This is definitely one of those games we’re going to have to be sound defensively first and then hopefully be able to generate enough going forward as well.
“It’s definitely a game we’re going to have to play a full 80 minutes. It’s not going to be like we’re going to be able to come in and intimidate them. We’re going to have to be ready to go and be ready for a battle for the full 80 minutes and not look at any part of Thursday.”
GREENEVILLE FACES BIG SCORER FROM DYERSBURG
Greeneville makes its ninth consecutive trip to state and seeks its first state title since 2020, when it went back-to-back.
The Lady Greene Devils (15-7), who lost to Page in the semifinals the last two seasons, take on Dyersburg (13-7) in Wednesday’s quarterfinals (11 a.m.) at Baylor School.
Greeneville defeated Dyersburg – led by senior forward Zainab Manneh – by a 4-1 score in last year’s quarterfinal.
Manneh, daughter of Dyersburg coach Musa Manneh, scored the Lady Trojans’ only goal against Greeneville last year.
“We knew how good she was then and I think we saw her during her freshman year,” Greeneville coach Jerry Graham said. “I think she’s got like 185 goals in her career and she’s like fifth in the state in all-time scoring. She’s phenomenal. She’s a really special player and she’s got a good supporting cast around her. We’ve got our hands full, for sure.”
Dyersburg, though, is 0-5 in its five previous state tournament matches, while Greeneville has a 19-6 record in state tournaments and is 4-1 in championship matches.
“We have that experience and veteran players who have been in that situation,” Graham said. “It speaks volumes about not going down there and getting lost in the lights and everything. I think having been there will help us keep our focus.”
Graham made a competitive schedule to prepare his team.
Greeneville has losses to Gallatin’s Station Camp, Bearden, Johnson City Science Hill, Farragut, and West.
The Lady Greene Devils have won five straight since a 4-2 loss at West on Oct. 5.
“We play such a hard schedule because we want to win the last three (at state),” Graham said. “We’d love to have an undefeated record and all that stuff, but when it comes down to it, if we’ve not done our girls justice preparing them and letting them see some of the top talent, then we feel like we’ve not prepared them. If we win, great, if we don’t, we come back and watch film to see how we can get better.”
DAILEY: ‘MONUMENTAL THING’
Kingston coach Ellen Dailey expects her players to have some butterflies when the Lady Yellow Jackets (15-2) play their quarterfinal Wednesday (4 p.m.) against Cascade (15-2) at Girls Preparatory School.
“I think our girls are always going to be nervous,” Dailey said, “but we’ve talked to them about this maybe being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and when these opportunities arrive, you just have to make the most of it. They’re natural competitors so I don’t worry about them coming out and being competitive, but I want them to just soak it in, and enjoy the excitement of this monumental thing for them.”
Cascade finished second in District 9-AA with two losses to Huntland but avenged those with a 3-0 win against Huntland in the district championship.
The Lady Champions – yes, Lady Champions – from Bell Buckle defeated Cheatham County 2-1 in Saturday’s sectional for the state bid.
Cascade is making its first appearance at state in program history.
“We’ve tried to do a little bit of intel (on Cascade),” Dailey said Monday, “but they’re a small school, smaller than we are, and they seem to be pretty big, pretty physical so it may be a pretty physical game Wednesday afternoon.”
Dailey expects to have a hearty contingent of Kingston fans there.
Kingston football coach Brian Pankey rescheduled practices so his players could attend Wednesday’s match with the rest of the Lady Jackets’ fans.
“We have a great AD (Bruce Robinette),” Dailey said. “We have a great high school and head football coach (Pankey) who does everything he can for us. He brought us ice jugs on Saturday (for the sectional match), one less thing we had to do.
“He moved football practice on Wednesday and the boys get to come watch us for in the state tournament. I know it’s not everywhere the head football coach is willing to make adjustments for his program to accommodate ours.”
Daily said the community’s support for her team has been overwhelming.
It was evident during Saturday’s 5-0 home victory over Polk County in the Class A sectionals.
There was a fundraiser for the team Monday night.
“Kingston is very community oriented,” Dailey said. “We had a huge crowd Saturday for the game. People that have no involvement in the soccer community, don’t have kids who play, probably know nothing about the sport, were out to support us. It was huge. Anytime anything happens here, good or bad, this community rallies and does everything they can to support.”
It’s also gratifying for Dailey and her assistant, Alex Lunsford.
Dailey, in her ninth year as the coach, is a 2009 Kingston graduate and played two years for the soccer team before injuries cut her career short.
Lunsford, in her eighth season as Dailey’s assistant, is a 2012 Kingston graduate and four-year soccer player there.
“She and I went to high school together and were friends growing up,” Dailey said. “I think we have just worked really hard to build this program and we have a lot of community support. It’s really exciting.”