Question: When was the last time a girls’ basketball team in TSSAA finished a season as an undefeated state champion?
“I was given some information on the way down here telling me the last team to do it was Upperman in 2018,” said South Side coach Brent McNeal during the postgame press conference after his Lady Hawks had just won the Class 3A state championship with a perfect 34-0 record.
It’s been five years.
In 2020, the boys’ team from South Side was undefeated, but after winning their sectional, they didn’t get a chance to compete for a state championship because the season was cut short when TSSAA stopped all competition because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We talked about the boys’ team and how they never lost but never got to play for the title,” McNeal said. “So we said, it’s something we can do.
“It wasn’t necessarily our goal starting out because the main thing we wanted was this championship.”
McNeal said that conversation happened within the last week-and-a-half after winning the Region 6-3A championship because that was the last time a team could lose and still win the championship.
“We just had to stay focused and locked in all season,” said senior Jakarrah Anderson after the win. “We had to do that this week.”
The final three games of the season in the state tournament were the toughest of the season with a back-and-forth game with defending state champion Upperman in the quarterfinals, the double overtime instant classic with Elizabethton in the semifinals and the 10-point championship win on Saturday.
Among their 34 wins, the Lady Hawks had two games to finish with a margin of victory of fewer than 10 points – the semifinal win over Elizabethton (84-76) and a 55-52 win in January at district rival South Gibson – whom South Side defeated four times and had a chance at playing a fifth before falling to Livingston Academy in the other semifinal.
“Not a lot of people are familiar with some of the teams we’ve played,” McNeal said when discussing the undefeated record in the press conference, listing teams like Gibson County, Huntingdon, Bartlett and highly-regarded teams from other states they played in different showcases and tournaments that had players with NCAA Division I scholarship offers. “But we’ve played good teams from St. Louis and Alabama and a bunch of teams that made it here or made it to the substate.”
Not only did the Lady Hawks make program history with the win, but they also made Jackson history.
They’re the first high school basketball team – boys or girls – to win a state championship undefeated. The Hawks’ COVID-shortened season was the only other team to never suffer a loss.
Brandon Shields, email@example.com