Okay chemistry major…what happens when you mix two powerful elements together? Will we have an adverse chemical reaction that burns the lab down or a euphoric production that yields a valuable compound? Hopes are the molecular equation will yield a valuable product and not a destructive explosion because as we know gold good…fire bad.
The TSSAA BlueCross Basketball class AAA title game was a classic combination of quality elements for the Blackman high school Lady Blaze (24-3). Providing a mix that would have made Einstein proud, a veteran coach and a talented lineup were combined with a gold trophy being the result. The 64-56 defeat of Lebanon was the end result, but the experiment that netted Blackman their third class AAA state title in girl’s basketball began in the lab back in October.
In a year with many challenges, the very proud Lady Blaze program was left without a head coach following the departure of previous coach Wendi Scott and the sudden resignation of her replacement John Stigall in October. Having returned most of the players from a sectional finalist the season before, the cupboard was far from bare. Vanderbilt signee Iyanna Moore was just one of the talented members on the roster, but who could lead this established group to the promised land ?
Jennifer Grandstaff had long been a staple in the Rutherford County high school basketball community. Having been the driving force behind a hugely successful program at Oakland, the hard-working head coach had knocked on the door with two appearances in the state title game, but was yet to garner the gold plaque. After 29 seasons walking the sidelines she had decided to hang up her whistle. Here is where the beaker is broken out and the formulation begins.
“This all kind of fell into my lap and I met with (Blackman principal) Doctor (Leisa) Justus in the Murphy Center parking lot back in October to let her know what she would be getting with me because I didn’t want there to be any surprises”, says Grandstaff. “I am not a rah-rah coach and am very demanding so the last thing I wanted was her to have regrets if she decided to hire me. I told her then there is a great opportunity for this Blackman team to be playing here in March.”
With Grandstaff in place and the season facing all the challenges of today’s world, the molecular combination began to take place. With a keen eye for talent and a strong work ethic, the new Lady Blaze leader began mixing with a senior-laden lineup that was hungry for success.
“I knew we had the pieces to the puzzle here at Blackman,” says Grandstaff. “We have talent, special leaders, great role players, and just genuinely good kids. A big part of it all, however, is getting them to come together and buy into what we are teaching. Chemistry is probably the most important thing because all the talent in the world will not win you a championship if you can’t bond together and play as a unit.”
As the trials and tribulations of the season unfolded, the equation began adding up. In a season that was starting and stopping early on, the Lady Blaze were 3-3 after six games. At that point in time E=MC2 and Grandstaff ignited her Lady Blaze in a good way. Along with Moore, fellow seniors Kaylee Odom and Victoria Page embraced their roles and started a winning streak that would not be broken. Rolling through the rest of the regular season, Blackman turned their attention towards a post-season run that saw them outscore the opposition 335-155 in the district, region, and sectional tournament games.
“The best thing about these girls are they genuinely care about each other”, says Grandstaff. “They are happy for each other, they hurt for each other, the bond has been so strong. Iyanna Moore is a very talented player but at the same time she is so unselfish and always tries to make everyone better. That mentality is what transformed us into a really good team because when you have kids like that special things can happen.”
Now, after a solid group effort in the win against a very game squad from Lebanon, Blackman high school will place a Gold Basketball in the Lady Blaze trophy case. The experiment with a talented group combining with a cagy coach yielded a result some can only dream about.
“I have been in Rutherford County most of my life and the basketball culture here is good but very tough”, says Grandstaff. “I have had plenty of years where we had a good season but it didn’t end the way we wanted it to and you are not satisfied. To get where we are at is just amazing.”