One year ago, Megan Sanfratello and Abby West sat in a Tipton-Rosemark Academy classroom and talked to a reporter about the disappointment of narrowly missing a state tournament berth for a second straight season.
The Lady Rebels won 25 games that season, including 17 straight to start the year, and things seemed to be trending toward the program’s first state berth. Rosemark, however, lost two games in the region tournament to finish fourth and lost to Knoxville Webb in overtime to end the season.
Both players were juniors and had one more season to get to Nashville, but they had very long faces and appeared to be holding back tears while reflecting on the situation.
West and Sanfratello had totally different looks on their faces Monday afternoon while talking to the same reporter about making the DII-A state tournament for the first time in school history.
“It’s very exciting,” West said. “At first, I was kind of shocked about it. It’s hard to explain how excited we are about it.”
“It doesn’t feel real, still, honestly, because no one’s ever made it this far,” Sanfratello said. “I guess when we get there it will feel more real.”
The Lady Rebels (23-6) play Trinity Christian Academy on Thursday at 3:15 p.m. at Lipscomb University in Nashville in a DII-A state semifinal. The title game is Saturday at noon.
Rosemark got to this point by beating Christ Presbyterian Academy (the team that knocked out Rosemark two years ago) 67-30 last Tuesday and Knoxville Webb 61-34 last Friday in Knoxville. Webb led Rosemark in the second quarter and trailed by just one at the half before the Lady Rebels pulled away to win and punch their ticket for Nashville.
“It was just so exciting. I don’t really know how to explain it,” said Rosemark junior Brianna Hall. “We were just all on the bench waiting for the clock to go down to zeros. It was good to get revenge on Knoxville because they put us out last year.”
“Everybody’s really excited and they’re already planning on skipping school and going (to state),” West said. “Once the boys got put out on Wednesday, all the guys on the baseball team said, ‘We’re rooting for y’all, we want y’all to make it.'”
Cedric Anderson, who took over as the team’s head coach this season, said making state is obviously a big deal, but the team has been in postseason mode for a couple of weeks.
“We definitely see it as an accomplishment and we talk about it, but we try to impress upon the girls that the playoffs started the minute the regular season ended,” he said. “We try and get in that playoff mode and win-or-go-home mentality the entire time.”
TCA presents a serious challenge. The Lady Lions are 30-1 and riding a 26-game winning streak. They have not lost to a Division II team all year and have been ranked atop the Associated Press state poll for more than two months. TCA moved from Division I to II during the offseason. Senior guard Macey Lee, a Miss Basketball finalist, leads the way, averaging 19.5 points per game.
“It’s a strong program and they have four senior starters who have seen a lot of success,” Anderson said. “Macey Lee is a really good player. The girls don’t get rattled easily and they respond well to adversity.”
Rosemark played them three times this year and lost all three, but the games were competitive. TCA won by 13 in December, by 11 in January and 60-52 on Feb. 22 in the region title game. Rosemark led TCA by four points with 2:40 to go in the final matchup before falling.
“The last time we played them we could have won solely based on the free throws we missed,” Allen said. “We have to take advantage of every single opportunity we have.”
“The mindset is we want to win,” Hall said. “I kind of wish it was the actual state championship game, but now it doesn’t really matter. I just hope we all come out really ready to play. I want to win so bad.”
Since Sanfratello and West were freshmen, the program has won at an unprecedented level. Both have scored well over 1,000 points in their careers and won numerous individual awards. Sanfratello ranks top 10 in the state for 3-pointers made in a career.
Still, both feel like there’s a little more work to be done before things end, one way or another, this week in Nashville.
“It crosses my mind every day that this could be our last game, but I have a gut feeling that something’s missing, like we’re not finished,” West said.
Said Sanfratello: “I really want to win. I feel, like Abby, that there’s something missing.”