The defending-champion Knoxville Catholic boys make the semifinals in their bid to repeat
By Dan McWilliams
The Knoxville Catholic High School girls basketball team made school history as it
reached its first-ever state tournament and came home with a runner-up finish.
The Fighting Irish boys team, the defending champions in Division II, Class AA, fell in the state semifinals this year.
KCHS was the only school in Tennessee to send both its girls and boys teams to the state tournament.
The Lady Irish lost 41-34 to Hutchison in the state-championship game March 6 at the Hooper Eblen Center on the campus of Tennessee Tech in Cookeville.
Senior Jeila Greenlee led the KCHS girls (15-17) with 11 points. Team leading scorer Sydney Mains, a freshman and daughter of Lady Irish head coach Travis Mains, added nine points and sophomore Jazmine Williams eight.
Jeila and Sydney made all-tournament for the Lady Irish.
“The kids know what it feels like to lose a state-championship game,” coach Mains said. “They know what it feels like to come down and be this close. Let that fuel the fire and hopefully it’ll build a lot of momentum for us in the future.”
Hutchison, from Memphis, bolted out to a 17-5 advantage at the end of the first quarter and led 26-11 at halftime and 34-20 after three periods. Hutchison led by as many as 19 in the third quarter, but KCHS cut it to 39-34 on a 3-pointer by Jeila with 36 seconds left in the game.
“I’m proud of their effort, their fighting,” coach Mains said. “There are some things that we should have done in the first half, but they didn’t quit. It mirrored our season. We were down a bunch, and then we fought back but didn’t have enough at the end. I was proud of them and their character.”
The Lady Irish outpaced Father Ryan 50-38 in the semifinals March 5, bolting out to quarter leads of 13-8, 31-13, and 39-20. Sydney poured in 23 points to lead all scorers, and Jazmine and Jeila added 12 apiece. Sydney also led the KCHS girls with eight rebounds, while Jazmine recorded seven boards and Jeila six. Jazmine accounted for six assists for the Lady Irish.
The Lady Irish received a bye into the state quarterfinals, where they defeated Pope John Paul II 54-40 at KCHS on Feb. 27 to advance to the state tourney.
The Knoxville Catholic girls team earned the quarterfinal berth with a district-tournament championship- game win over Baylor 47-44 on Feb. 19. Sydney scored 17 points and Jazmine 14 in the victory.
Coach Mains said he is confident that his Lady Irish can return to the state tournament in 2022.
“I’m very confident,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy. We’ll lose Jeila. We’ve got to work hard and get better.”
The Lady Irish were a young team this season.
“A lot of freshmen and sophomores. A lot of kids who had never even really played basketball,” coach Mains said after the finals. “[Junior] Ella Renfree, who had [five] blocks today, she was a JV kid last year who didn’t even play [varsity]. There’s a lot of potential we’re trying to mine.”
The KCHS girls team lost 16 games in the regular season against a tough schedule but scrapped its way to the state tourney.
“It’s a storybook. I thought we’d maybe finish it off by hitting a 3 at the buzzer,” coach Mains said. “It takes good kids. It takes good parents. It takes good administration. . . . You’ve got kids who are filling roles. It’s pretty easy to coach when you’ve got kids who want to fight and parents who are going to back you as the coach. That’s a hard thing to find.”
The Fighting Irish boys team lost to eventual state champion MBA 60-49 in the semifinals March 5. Junior BJ Edwards led Knoxville Catholic (21-4) with 16 points, while sophomore Blue Cain added 11 points and a team high eight rebounds.
MBA led KCHS 12-10 after the first quarter before a 19-point second period gave the Fighting Irish a 29-25 halftime lead. MBA allowed only four KCHS points in the third quarter to retake the lead 39-33.
Brentwood Academy defeated Christian Brothers 69-61 in the other boys semifinal before MBA topped Brentwood Academy 72-51 in the finals.
The Fighting Irish reached the state semifinals with a 45-36 win over McCallie in the quarterfinals Feb. 27 at KCHS. Knoxville Catholic had received a bye into the quarterfinals.
The Knoxville Catholic boys squad finished the season in first place in the Knoxville News Sentinel’s final rankings of metro-area teams, followed by Greeneville in second, Bearden, Oak Ridge, and Knoxville Webb.