Bremen coach Kathy Matthews does point out her team did host a Class A play-in game last season, but she is quick to note that they don’t see that game as a true state playoff game. The second-seeded Lady Blue Devil squad now gets that chance when it hosts Union County (17-8) tonight at 7 p.m. in the opening round of the Class AA state playoffs.
“It means a lot. That’s quite an accomplishment to be one of the few teams able to play at home for the state tournament. Of course, we’re hoping to get a good crowd in here and have a big home-court advantage. Not only playing on our home floor, but having our fans and our crowd behind us,” Matthews said.
The Lady Blue Devils (21-6) have been playoff regulars throughout Matthews’ tenure, but the past three years have been especially successful. Last season and two years ago, Bremen won 19 games each and reached the 20-win mark this year in the regular-season finale.
That success comes from Matthews, assistant Courtney Sellers, a defense-first mentality, strong team chemistry and a group of nine seniors that lead the team on and off the court. The senior quartet of Jordan Hill, Kayleigh Medlin, Jamia Johnson and Kalia Johnson are the spark plugs that keeps the Bremen engine running.
“It’s basically like having four coaches on the floor. We’ve been around each other so much where I can read their mind, most of the time, what they’re going to do on the floor. Then a lot of times they can read mine, as well. When you’ve got leaders like that, that have been through the battle and played in important games, it makes my job a lot easier. To have such knowledge on the floor,” Matthews said.
Led by Hill’s scoring, Medlin’s presence inside and Kalia and Jamia Johnson’s defense and offense, the four are now enjoying some things they have never done before, while still having plenty of fun.
“It means a lot to us because we’ve been together for four years and we’ve never hosted one. We’re going to make the best of it,” noted Hill, who eclipsed the 1,500-point plateau for her career this season. “We never made it to a region championship game before. We were blessed to be able to be in it.”
Along with those four, Kayla Chapman, Ashlyn Clay, Morgan Ross, Jessica Golden and Mylee Connor round out the senior class that has enjoyed plenty of success wearing the Bremen Blue.
“It means a lot. This group is probably, overall, has one of the highest winning percentages and most wins out of any group at Bremen in history. They’ve worked hard and put in a lot of time on the floor in the offseason, in-season. It’s great to see their hard work paying off,” Matthews said.
Coming into Bremen tonight is a Union County team that finished third in Region 8-AA after picking up a big win in the consolation game at the region tournament. The focus for the Lady Blue Devil defense will be keeping the Lady Panthers off the 3-point line.
“They’re very guard-oriented. They’ve got a lot of kids that can shoot the 3 and are very deep. We’ve got to be able to defend the perimeter,” Matthews said. “That’s what I’ve been told — if you can keep them from getting hot from behind the 3, we should be OK.”
Being a playoff team and getting ready to host a tournament game even makes coming into practice on a school holiday — and early in the morning, which was the case Monday — a little more bearable, especially when the alternative is being on the outside looking in.
“It’s wonderful. You think about all the other teams sitting at home that would love to be practicing on the holiday. Even though you might want to be relaxing at home or getting something else done, this is where I want to be. I want to be in the gym or watching film getting ready for the game. It’s just exciting,” Matthews said.
And for the seniors, they want to keep their last season going.
“We worked so hard for this. It’s special knowing that this is our final home game and it’s a state game,” Medlin said. “I’m not ready for this to be over.”