Girls teams return to state after 2020 disruption

The COVID-19 pandemic that wrecked the 2020 TSSAA Girls’ State Tournament after its quarterfinal rounds
Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 10:19 AM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - They are Back! From the COVID-19 pandemic that wrecked the 2020 TSSAA Girls’ State Tournament after its quarterfinal rounds while the as-yet-unconquered virus disrupted, halted and forever changed life around the globe.

Back from tornadoes that likewise ravaged the mid-state region all the way from west of Nashville east to the Cumberland Plateau last spring.

For Maryville High School’s Lady Rebels, back more so as testament to the immense courage of assistant coach Kayla Tillie Rooney, a former standout-player at the school always known for her effervescent attitude.

She’s in the fight of her life as she confronts leukemia and finds an entire community, not just coaches and players, rallying at her side.

“We may have been lucky last year because we got to play and know our outcome,” said veteran Maryville coach Scott West, whose squad fell in a see-saw battle against Whitehaven last year in the Class AAA quarterfinals. “We knew we had a special team coming back, but when Coach Kayla Rooney was diagnosed with leukemia, it hit all of us pretty hard.

“It makes all the other struggles in life pale in comparison to what Kayla has had to endure. We wanted to get to Murfreesboro and compete for her, to give it our all, as she fights the toughest battle of her life every day.”

Twenty-four teams descend this week upon Middle Tennessee State University’s ‘Glass House,’ where some players are preparing to don a uniform for the last time ever. Yet the mere event itself is a victory for every player, coach, parent, referee, scoreboard operator and medical expert who helped an entire state persevere for young people to regain a semblance of normalcy in the form of 32 minutes per game.

“With COVID-19 happening over the last year, our kids were put in tough situations and not just our’s but everybody in general. We were told to stay home and not do anything,” said Lebanon coach Cory Barrett, whose program is back in Murfreesboro at the state tournament for a third year in a row. “Trying to tell 14- to 17-, 18-year-old kids they can’t be around their friends and can’t go to Sonic and have a slushie, things like that, you were asking them to take away their high school experience of being together. It was a promotion for laziness and there was just nothing we could do about that.

“For them to come back and jump back into physical work, into mental preparation, into the weight room, into all the things that encompass what we do as a program and them embrace it and run with it, I think it’s just something remarkable.”

It’s remarkable any year, any level, when individuals coalesce into a team that reaches MTSU’s Murphy Center for a 96-hour stretch from Wednesday through Saturday, sneakers squeaking and whistles echoing, with a gold ball as the unified goal.

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