By J.P. Plant
MURFREESBORO — “The agony of defeat” can often be overused, but it can also teach life lessons.
The passion produced in the heat of athletic competition creates a two-way flow of emotions, and it did so for Summertown as a girls basketball season with so much promise came to a screeching halt Saturday with a 49-41 loss to county and district rival Loretto in Class A state tournament championship game at Murphy Center on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University.
It marks a second state runner-up finish in four seasons, after the 2018 team fell to Greenfield in the finals — when this year’s seniors were freshmen.
“This team has fought so many different circumstances over the past couple of years,” third-year coach Catie Embrey said. “As freshmen this senior group came in and lost in the state title game. To battle and get back this season is something this group will always take with them.”
A battered and bruised Lady Eagle contingent won 29 games — three over Saturday’s opponent. Despite their ultimate inability to close the deal, the experience is one that will resonate with the group.
“It was special coming back with them,” said Kaley Campbell, one of the team’s four seniors, who had her junior campaign cut short by a knee injury. “I just feel blessed to be here.”
Campbell and classmate Jenna Brazier not only gained experience with the 2018 title game run, but as eighth-graders when they contributed on a Summertown team that advanced to the state semifinals. The pair, along with Hailey Jones and Rylee Long, comprise one of the most successful classes in Lady Eagle hoops history.
That experience has been a key through a tough season, as Campbell’s injury, others suffered by teammates and the ongoing global pandemic fostered a closeness between the seniors, and the rest of the team.
“We just lean on each other and keep pushing through,” said Jones. “That’s what we’ve relied on all year.”
Though just a junior, post Katie Burdette has been a vital member of the Summertown starting lineup as well — making her departure, following her fifth foul with just under six minutes Saturday, a crucial development.
Loretto outscored the Lady Eagles 15-8 the rest of the way.
“Losing ‘Burd’ was a huge piece, defensively and offensively,” Embrey said.
Given her production and the roster makeup going forward, Burdette will certainly be leaned on next season.
“They leave some big shoes to fill — leadership-wise, just their motor at practice wanting to compete and be the best at every drill, maintaining that culture and continuing it,” Embrey said.
There is no doubt the legacy left by these four seniors will be felt for years to come. But as for the four themselves, Embrey sees the experience from Saturday’s loss as a special character builder that is unique to playing high school sports.
“Just the fight and the grit that these kids have, there is so much they’ve learned that they can take with them moving forward in life,” she said. “That’s why we play sports because it teaches you so much even though it hurts — it just teaches you so much.”