High school basketball season is a few months away, but local players still saw recent success at the AAU level. The Central Tennessee Tide eighth grade girls team won the Nike National Championship in Atlanta earlier this summer.
Among other areas, the team included players from Manchester, Tullahoma and Hillsboro. Three players, Olivia Swain, Jalie Reuhling and Chloe Gannon are freshmen at Coffee County Central High School.
Before the championship, the team finished in the top four of both the AAU Division 1 State Tournament and the Run 4 the Roses Tournament in Louisville.
The Tide opened pool play in the national tournament with a 60-21 win over the Lady Rim Rockers of College Park, Md. Gannon led the offense with 14 points. Reuhling and Swain followed with 13 points each.
In the next round, the girls took on the South Carolina Future. The Tide once again led by over 20 points in a 49-21 victory. Gannon continued her offensive effort with another 14-point game.
The team closed out pool play with a close 46-35 win over the NWI Thunder of Valparaiso, Ind. The victory gave the Tide an undefeated record in pool play and secured a spot in the Platinum Division Championship bracket. Gannon had the second-most points with seven behind 19 points from Lucy Nutt.
In the tournament semifinals, the Tide faced off against the in-state foe East Tennessee Air. Central Tennessee followed up on an earlier May win over the Air with a 46-35 win to advance to the final. Ruehling finished the game with 11 points, just behind Eleanor Fults's 16.
In the championship game, the Tide took on Team Providence Athletics of Providence, R.I. Team Providence took an early lead, but Central Tennessee battled back to tie it at 17 with just over a minute left in the first half. Providence was able to slow the Tide's advance with a five-point run and take a 22-17 lead into the break.
Central Tennessee responded with a run of its own to tie the game early in the second half. Strong defensive play helped the team continue to push ahead. The Tide had an eight-point lead with just over seven minutes left and did not let up through the game's remainder to win the National Championship 40-24.
“I’ve never seen anything like the defensive performance the girls had in that second half. In a National Championship game to only give up two free throws in a 14-minute half is just unheard of. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything more impressive from a team," Coach Eddie Helton said in a statement. "These girls really dedicated themselves to defending every possession and playing like the game depended on getting a stop each trip down the floor. I am so very proud of them. Every one of the eight girls played a vital part in this team’s success. They are the true definition of a team. They play as a team, they defend as a team and they win as a team.”