The participation of the Lady Vols is critical for the success of the league – which completes its second season Thursday at Christian Academy of Knoxville – and the players, several of whom have made every game, know they have to be careful, especially when they leave their feet for rebounds or on breakaways.
The fact it was Alicia Manning, a gritty 6’1 forward from Woodstock, Ga., that got hurt wasn’t a surprise to her Tennessee teammates.
“A-Town doesn’t see out of bounds or walls or stands,” Alyssia Brewer said. “She just sees open area.”
Manning hasn’t treated the games like a casual summer league and has instead hustled on defense and sprinted the floor.
“A-Town always goes extra hard all the time,” Kamiko Williams said. “A-Town has that mind-set. She is always going to try to go for balls, even if you know you can’t get them she is always going to try. That’s just how she is. The blue-collar worker.”
The injury occurred seconds after Manning secured a loose ball rebound near the free throw line, drove to the basket and pump-faked, which got her defender in the air. As Manning went up for the shot, Mandy Mendenhall came down and her elbow smashed into Manning’s left eye. Manning hit the floor but still wasn’t aware of the severity of the blow.
“When she get hits she doesn’t even realize it,” Meighan Simmons said. “Strick was the one that noticed it. She didn’t even know that her head was gashed open until Strick said something and she saw blood on her hands.”
The injury occurred Tuesday in the second game when Manning’s DeRoyal team faced Shekinna Stricklen’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes squad. It was Stricklen who immediately went to Manning’s side and motioned for help.
Simmons, who had played in the first game of the evening for Pilot, was in the stands and didn’t see exactly what happened. Like the rest of the Lady Vols in the gym, Simmons went to check on Manning at halftime – the injury occurred seconds before the first half ended – and was surprised by the sight of a split-open wound.
When I went down there I said, ‘A-Town what happened?’ And I looked it was like she had three eyebrows,” Simmons said. “It looks bad because now it’s super swollen.”
Manning tried to argue to stay in the game, but a call to the Lady Vols team physician resulted in her teammates taking Manning to the hospital.
“She went to the hospital and she was asking the doctor random questions like, ‘Can you check my wisdom teeth?’ ” Simmons said. “They really thought she had a concussion. It was like, ‘A-Town, really, wisdom teeth and you’ve got a gash in your eyebrow?’ ”
Manning’s teammates, in typical fashion, also used the opportunity to tease her.
“She was freaking out,” Williams said. “She said, ‘They’re going to shave my eyebrow.’ I said, ‘It’s OK. Your eyebrow is already bushy. They are going to fix it up for you. You’re going to be looking good.’ We tried to make humor out of it.”
Manning saw the Lady Vols’ physician Wednesday and was told to not play the rest of the week. Manning didn’t like the directive but she followed it – making sure she did so by wearing running shoes and leaving her high tops at home – and came to the gym to watch the games and sit on the bench during the DeRoyal game.
DeRoyal played in the final game of the evening Wednesday and with the absence of Manning and Glory Johnson, who is on a family vacation, lost to Duncan Automotive, which got its second win in as many days, by the score of 91-71.
DeRoyal is now 3-2 but will still face Fellowship of Christian Athletes, 4-1, in the title game on Thursday, based on previous head-to-head matchups.
Former Lady Vol Dominique Redding had 10 points for DeRoyal while Elle Nelson, who plays for CAK, led the way with 20. Jill Herman, who plays at Roane State, tallied 17 points.
Duncan Automotive, 2-3, was led by Faith Dupree with 25 points. Taylor Mills, who plays for Kennesaw State, tallied 21 points, while Makayla Graham of Central High School in Knoxville added 16 points. Casie Cowan of Cumberland University chipped in with 12 points.
The first game of the evening featured Pilot against undefeated FCA, which was without Taber Spani, who completed summer session and headed home to Missouri, while Isabelle Harrison, who missed the last two games because of summer school commitments, was back for Pilot.
Despite the good-natured smack talk from Stricklen about staying unbeaten – and the game was tied with four minutes to play – Pilot, 3-2, handed FCA its first loss of the league, 76-65, behind 28 points from Simmons and 23 from Harrison.
It was a breakout league game for Harrison, an incoming Lady Vol freshman, as the 6’3 post showed some nifty moves in the paint and the ability to run the floor.
Stricklen had 11 points for FCA while Mendenhall led the way with 26. Bailey Roberts, who plays for Southeast Missouri State, added 11 points.
Simmons scored on several breaks to the basket, but Manning’s injury was on her mind.
“I didn’t want to go in for a rebound and have somebody’s elbows up and come down,” Simmons said. “I am not saying that I am not going to rebound because I am afraid of getting hit. I don’t mind getting hit, but you’ve got to take precautions.
“Here, you don’t want to do that. You don’t want to get hurt. When it comes to a real game and I really need to get a rebound, yes, I will be in the middle of it getting rebounds.”
The middle game of the evening was between the News Sentinel and Smith & Hammaker. The newspaper’s team remained winless with an 89-62 loss. Karly Stache, a product of Heritage High School in Louisville, Tenn., now at North Greenville (S.C.) University, scored 27 points for the News Sentinel, 0-5, while Mariah Britton of Bryan College added 14.
Smith & Hammaker, 3-2, got balanced scoring with 18 points from Alyssia Brewer – including two treys – 10 from Williams, 19 points from Alaina Jordan, a Coalfield product headed to Coastal Carolina, 16 from Jessica Walter and 10 from Stephanie Torrence.
Brewer and Williams both said they also take steps to avoid collisions. With high school players in the league, most of them guards, the Lady Vols tower over them and have backed off when they could have dominated the contact.
“I’ve always tried to be careful,” said Brewer, who is coming back from Achilles tendon surgery.
“Have fun and get in (basketball) shape,” Williams said of her approach to the games. “Get stamina. Running with Heather (Mason) is different than running up and down the floor.”
Among the Lady Vols, Williams and Brewer have participated in every game despite the compressed schedule and back-to-back nights, along with summer classes and early morning workouts on campus. Both said they intend to be on hand for Thursday’s finale. Simmons and Stricklen also have made every game, and Manning would have done so had she not be ordered to the sideline.
“We’re faithful,” Brewer said.
The league ends Thursday evening with No. 5 seed Duncan Automotive vs. No. 6 seed the News Sentinel at 6 p.m., followed by No. 3 seed Smith & Hammaker vs. No. 4 seed Pilot at 7:30 p.m. The title game features No. 1 seed FCA vs. No. 2 seed DeRoyal at 9 p.m.
Game One: Pilot vs. Fellowship of Christian Athletes
Meighan Simmons and Isabelle Harrison
Game Two: The News Sentinel vs. Smith & Hammaker
Game Three: DeRoyal vs. Duncan Automotive