Face-off: Ex-teammates lead county rivals to title clash

By Maurice Patton

MURFREESBORO — Catie Embrey and Ashley Rutledge chased gold balls together.

One of the two will lead their team to a state championship Saturday, as Summertown and Loretto clash in the Class A tournament finals at 11 a.m.

But before they were on separate benches, the two were teammates – helping Lawrence County to the 2002 Class AAA title game, where they fell to Sevier County.

Both credited their time together in the Lady Wildcat backcourt with putting them in their current positions.

“We’ve battled it out on the floor as players, we’ve battled together, and now we’re going against each other,” said Rutledge, who as Ashley Helton was a junior – a year ahead of Embrey (then Woods) and playing for current Summit girls coach John Wild on a Lawrence County squad that finished 31-5, winning six straight postseason contests before that championship game loss.

After stints at Columbia Academy and Mars Hill (Ala.), 2003 Lawrence County graduate Ashley Rutledge has Loretto in its second state championship game of her seven-year Lady Mustang coaching tenure. (Photo by Vanessa Beach / SM-Tn Sports)

“We came up a little short in that final game my junior year and again in 2019 (at Loretto). I feel like understanding it as a player and as a coach should help going forward (Saturday).”

Rutledge and Embrey agree that the Wild experience was a crucible of sorts, forging their futures.

“It was hard, but I loved playing for him,” Rutledge said.

“He made me tough as nails,” said Embrey, the team’s point guard to Rutledge’s shooting guard. “He didn’t mind ripping me. He made me into the floor general I am, the leader I was. He really pushed me to be an over-communicator and (to) do things the right way, and I think that carries into my program. I want to do things the right way.”

From Lawrence County, both continued their playing careers collegiately – Rutledge at Freed-Hardeman, Embrey at Lipscomb – before picking up clipboards. The first head coaching assignment for each came at Columbia Academy, with Rutledge spending a season there and five years at Mars Hill (Ala.) Bible School before arriving at Loretto seven years ago.

Embrey spent three seasons at CA and one at Dickson County before taking over the Lady Eagles, who were coming off a state runner-up finish, in 2018.

2004 Lawrence County graduate Catie Embrey has Summertown in its second title game in four years, following a Class A runner-up finish in 2018. Embrey succeeded Craig McGill, who stepped down after the ’18 campaign and now coaches in Alabama. (Photo by Vanessa Beach / SM-Tn Sports)

Their success comes as no surprise to their former coach.

“They have varying personalities: Ashley’s a little more laid back; Catie’s a little more up-tempo, fiery,” Wild said. “But it’s obvious both of them have been highly successful, no matter what their personality may be. They’ve both done a phenomenal job in those communities.

“Occasionally I’ll come across some film (of their teams) on Hudl. I have gotten to watch some, because of the pandemic, on the NFHS Network. It’s been fun seeing them push their teams into the state championship game.

“I always thought they’d be really good coaches. They had a passion for the game; that was evident from how they played. They’re both tremendous leaders, in different ways. Their teammates had a tremendous amount of respect for both of them. Their passion and leadership skills are what’s gotten them to the point they are today.”

Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, both coaches are excited to put their programs on the biggest stage, under the brightest lights.

“It’s going to be so fun, for two female coaches, who run their programs the right way, from the same county, played on the same high school team, both played college basketball,” Embrey said. “I think that says a lot for our ability to be leaders and role models for our kids and for our families to see us. I look forward to doing that – win, lose or draw. I look forward to being in that moment.”

Wild, meanwhile, plans to be a bit closer than a computer monitor for this one.

“I’ll be there,” he said. “In a royal pullover and black pants.”

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