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Girls on 1990-91 state team left a legacy of hard work

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By Dwane Wilder

  In the long and glorious history of the Campbell County High School girl’s basketball program, one team stands alone.

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It’s been two decades since the Lady Cougars’ first trip to the state tournament, and the 1990-91 squad still is the CCHS girl’s team by which all others are measured.

That team produced half a dozen future college players, spawned a couple of brief coaching careers and created an elite basketball fraternity.

Members of the team recently reunited to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their historical drive to Murfreesboro. Coaches and players were honored at halftime of the Lady Cougars’ Feb. 4 home game against district rival Anderson County where they were given an emotional standing ovation.

“Everybody talks about their glory days. You don’t realize it at the time, but it was really neat to be part of something special,” said Randi Chapman Russell, a freshman on the ’90-91 team.

If there is one common thread that runs throughout this special group of athletes, it is their dedication to hard work and to each other.

“I pushed that team harder than any I’ve every coached, simply because their work ethic was so strong,” said former CCHS girl’s coach Sherry Chapman.

“I was probably too tough on them, but they had so much potential from the beginning. 

“We would practice for two or two and a half hours, and the kids would stay afterward and scrimmage for another hour or two. The games were probably the easy part for them.

“You don’t see that this day and time. Most coaches never get to experience that.”

The 1990-91 season was special, not only for the state tournament appearance, but also because the Lady Cougars went unbeaten in the district for the first time ever, won a school-record 20 consecutive games, and defeated perennial state power Oak Ridge an unprecedented three times en route to a District 3-AAA championship.

It was Chapman’s first year of coaching high school basketball. She had spent the previous season as girl’s basketball coach at LaFollette Middle School after earning NAIA All-American honors as a star player for nearby Lincoln Memorial University.

With four starters returning from a team that played in the regional tournament the year before, the Lady Cougars were primed for a breakout season.

“We had quick guards with Audrey (Orick) and Jill (Cox). We put pressure on people, and we had the speed to do it,” said Coach Chapman.

“Becky (Hudson) could play inside or outside. And we had some good people in the low post.

“It was just a well-balanced team. Most teams have one or two good players. Everybody we had could play.”

Campbell County opened the season with a heartbreaking 65-60 overtime loss to Jefferson County.

Then the fun began. With seniors Cox and Orick setting the pace, the Lady Cougars reeled off 20 consecutive victories to earn a No. 9 state ranking in the Associated Press Class AAA high school basketball poll.

“We just worked well together,” said Cox, who is married to current Lady Cougars’ head coach Ryan Browning.

“I think that first game let us know what we could do.”

Cox, a 5-foot-7 guard went on to a earn all-district, district tournament MVP, all-region and honorable mention all-state honors. She averaged 21 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals.

Orick was a 5-foot-2 dynamo at point guard. She averaged 9.4 points, 6 assists and 3.4 steals per game.

The X factor was Hudson, a talented junior who had great length (5-foot-11) for a wing player and created havoc in Campbell County’s press. She averaged 10.7 points, 5 assists and 2 steals per game. She also led the team in rebounding (7.8 rpg).

“Being on that team was being committed to a team that had an understanding of what it took to win ball games,” said Hudson, who is married to Jill’s brother Richard Cox.  

“It was a mutual respect between team members that worked together, worked hard, and were compassionate about the game.  

“It wasn’t just the dynamics of a great team that took us so far. I feel that the support of our families played a big role as well, who even came out 20 years later to show us support.   “It wasn’t just something for us to do; it was what everything revolved around. It was what made those years memorable. “I know I long for that feeling of pride we as a team shared as we went out on the court to play a game, but I have yet to find anything that compares to it. 

“Yes, I have things that I take extreme pride in these days. There are things I work hard at and am dedicated to. I am more proud of my family than anything else I have ever done, but I still go back to those years...

“What I wouldn’t do to play one more game.”

The following year Cox led the Lady Cougars to a second consecutive sub-state game, a feat that has not since been equaled by any CCHS team.

After beating Oak Ridge 59-44 in late February 1991 for the district tournament championship, Campbell County lost the regional title game to district rival Clinton.

The Lady Cougars then had to play their sub-state game on the road, and ended upper East Tennessee power Science Hill’s 11-game winning streak at Johnson City. The 65-53 win over the Lady Hilltoppers gave Campbell County its first berth in the state tournament with an opening round game against Shelbyville, the top-ranked team in the United States.

Jill Cox Browning vividly recalls the day the entire CCHS student body came out to wave goodbye and good luck as the team bus rolled out of the parking lot on its way to Murfreesboro.

“It made us feel special. It was a really good feeling,” she said.

Campbell County’s stay at the tournament was a short one (Shelbyville won 94-36), but no CCHS team since has been able to equal the Lady Cougars’ 27-5 record.

“The whole experience was neat,” said Audrey Orick Pahach.

“At the time, we may not have appreciated those Saturday Night Specials (endurance training drill). Sherry was a really good coach. She and Coach (assistant Brent) Peel gave us a lot of encouragement.”

At the time, the Lady Cougars’ post players — senior Charlotte Tibbs, junior Stephanie Norman, sophomore Kim Derry and freshman Sarah Dagley — didn’t get a lot of press but were an absolutely vital part of the team.

Derry was third on the team in scoring (9.7 ppg) and the second leading rebounder (7.6 rpg). Dagley got significant playing time for a freshman, and averaged 6.2 points and 5 rebounds per game while subbing for Tibbs.

“I really think it was a privilege to play with such a group of talented people,” said Sarah Dagley-McDowell.

“Not many players get that opportunity. If I could, I would go back and do it all again. We did have a good chemistry. Jill and Audrey were such strong leaders and pulled everybody together.”

Derry felt the same way.

“Playing with that group of girls was the best part of my life,” she said.

“We were more like a family than a team.”

Norman, now known by her married name — Stephanie Carter — also fondly remembers playing in the state tournament.

“I think it was a great life experience,” she said.

“It was a good group of girls, and everybody turned out to be successful.”

Both of Coach Chapman’s daughters later played for Campbell County. The youngest, Kristin, just completed her junior season while leading the Lady Cougars back to the regional tournament.

Suffice to say that the coach has seen many players come and go over the years, but none like those that were a part of her first high school team.

“The thing I’m most proud of about this group is that they’re all good people, they’re dedicated to their families and they’ve been successful in their lives,” said Coach Chapman.

“Basketball teaches you so much about respecting your teammates and being dependable. The relationships you build with your players will last a lifetime.”

“(Our girls) knew they had to work hard, and they gave you everything they had,” said Brent Peel, an assistant coach on the ’90-91 team.

“Now, you look back and see that nobody has been (to state) since, and you don’t really know when you’ll get there again. “You don’t realize how great of an accomplishment it is until later on.”