Sarah Cain, former Campbell Lady Cougar, set another personal best single-game high this past season with a 23-point night at Pulaski, Tennessee, in a hard earned win over Martin Methodist.
DAYTON, TN (WLAF) – This is a recap and look back on the Bryan Lady Lions Basketball season. Former Campbell County Lady Cougar Sarah Cain, a junior, is a starter and one of the team leaders both on and off the court.Even though the Bryan College women’s basketball team may have seen their 2019-20 postseason cut short, that did not hinder the Lions from enjoying another year of tremendous success both on and off the court. The Bryan squad continued to raise the high-standard of program achievement, extend their reign in the Appalachian Athletic Conference, break numerous program records, prove to be a perennial top-25 team in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), and leave their mark in Sioux City, Iowa at the NAIA Div. II National Championship Tournament.
Q&A with Bryan Head Coach, Jason Smith (below)
- How has the coaching staff and the players handled the abrupt end to the season? When we got the news that the tournament had been canceled, we just got to a practice gym to prepare for our next game vs. Marian. I think the first initial reaction from our players was shock and then disappointment. The attention quickly went to recognizing that Tristan, our lone senior, had played her last game the night before. Fortunately, Tristan played a great game in our win the night before so she got to go out on top with a win and a great performance. I think the coaching staff prepared a good game plan for Marian so we were a little disappointed about not getting the opportunity to play them. I promised our team that we would find a way to play that game sometime and somewhere so Marian has agreed to play us next year; a little consolation prize.
- Many teams have found creative ways to grow closer together during a time where, quite literally, they have been forced to separate. In what ways has the team been able to draw closer together during these challenging times? Since the moment we left Iowa, our whole team hasn’t been together since so it seems that we really haven’t had a good closure to our season. It’s been hard to stay connected but hopefully when a few of these travel bans and leave from home bans cease maybe we can get together as a team to properly celebrate this year.
- What does the “We Over Me” motto mean that we often see coming from the Bryan women’s basketball team? It is one of several slogans we use to easily articulate a specific team “Identity”. I think it started from a standard we put into place a few years ago when I made the statement, “It’s my job to love my players and it’s the players’ job to love each other.” I am passionate about character development and relationship building within our team as individuals and corporately. We really want to see our players genuinely love and care for one another; put others first (We Over Me) and be great teammates; a representation of our Lord’s command, “To love thy neighbor as yourself.” We have actively put teeth into that process with daily affirmations in practice and team Bible studies.
- Before the start of the season, what were some of your goals going forward? We really don’t set goals; we like to use the “standards” instead. A goal to me is someone you want to become and a standard is actually who you are. I would rather focus on who we are; a subtle difference but a big difference in outcomes in my experience. For example, we always have a standard of having a 3.5 team GPA every semester, that’s who we are. We always expect to win our conference, that’s who we are. We always expect to go to the National Tournament, that’s who we are. The standard statement that drives those outcomes is this: “We will practice and play like a Championship Basketball Team every time we hit the floor.” That statement has allowed us just to focus on getting better every single day.
- After last year’s historic campaign, did you feel like completing another undefeated conference slate would be a possibility? Doing it one time was ridiculous so even entertaining the thought of doing it again was ludicrous. We were confident in our talent that we could possibly win the conference again but there so many unknowns as well. It has always been our objective just to get better every day and after beating Martin Methodist in our first game I thought there was a chance to repeat.
- It was over two years that the team went without losing to a conference opponent. Tell me what that run was like for you. First of all, it was humbling and at the same time very gratifying, mostly to see the determination of my team to find ways to win games when they were not at their best. These ladies are just “winners” and it’s been my pleasure to sit back and watch them perform. It has always forced me to coach them every single day and never take a day off.
Bryan has won the Appalachian Athletic Conference and played in the national tournament each of Cain’s first three seasons with the Lady Lions.
- Even though the team wasn’t able to defend their AAC tournament crown, they still captured their third straight conference regular-season title. How has the team continued their dominating reign? The simple answer is that we are more talented and skilled than the other teams in our conference right now. We have a core group of girls that have played a lot of winning basketball games; their experience has been invaluable. Adding Hennessee, the Freshman of the Year, gave us an added athleticism we haven’t had in the past. Also, several of our players continue to improve their skills and talents each year. I really think Destiny and Sarah’s improvements this year were big contributors to our success.
- What does winning AAC Coach of the Year for two years running mean to you? To me that’s a team award; they don’t give that award to bad teams. Also, to me I share it with my entire coaching staff; we are a great team and our success is in direct proportion to their dedication and work as well. The plaque will just collect dust in my office.
- I know winning an opening-round game at the NAIA National Tournament has been a goal for many years. What was it like to make the trek to Sioux City and come back home with a victory? I have to be completely honest here, that win felt really good. I think every new accomplished plateau in your career is very satisfying; our first conference tournament win was memorable etc. but our first national tournament will have positive implications going forward about our brand and perceptions nationally that could propel our program to even further heights.
- What helped the team secure the win over Siena Heights? First, I think losing in the first round of the conference tournament was good for us; it did a couple of things. One, it re-focused us; we had become a little complacent in a few areas on and off the court. Two, the extra time off gave us some much-needed rest. Going into this year’s tournament we were physically fresh; I thought we had our legs. And third, after watching the initial film of Siena Heights we thought it was a good match-up for us; we prepared a great scout for the team and the girls really executed the game plan. All year long our first and fourth quarters were our best quarters, and that game was no different. Obviously, the 30-point outburst by us in the fourth was ultimately what secured the win. We found a group of 5 or 6 girls that worked together that night and stuck with them the entire fourth quarter.
- There’s no telling how far Bryan’s tournament run could have gone. What are your thoughts on next year’s team and their chances at a long post-season run? Tristan is our lone senior; we return 7 of our top 8 players including our entire starting 5, and our incoming class of freshmen will be very talented, including LMU transfer Gracee Dishman (a 3,000-point scorer in high school). On paper, next year’s team will be the most talented team I have ever had at Bryan, so our standards won’t change, they will only be raised. The NAIA goes to one division in basketball next year so there will be a lot of new adventures at the national level; we will possibly have new rivalries in post-season play.
- Were there any program/individual records set this year? There was 11 set this year; that is very remarkable. Destiny set the lone individual award with the best season for FG% at 58.4%.
- What were some of your favorite moments as a coach this season? My favorite moment of the year was probably during preparation week for the national tournament. We were scrimmaging some guys from our men’s junior varsity team, and our girls were beating them at one point; it was pleasant to see their enthusiasm and excitement for one another’s success. We had worked all year on WeOverMe, and I finally saw it manifested in front of me; that was very rewarding. Another was probably in the National Tournament game; there was a moment right after a timeout was called, and Deandra rushed onto the court and lifted Tristan up after she had made a big play, again that was an outward manifestation of our WeOverMe. Third, was Tristan’s interview after the win and the National Tournament. She gave a great testimony to God and gave Him the Glory for her outstanding performance. And lastly, having my dad in the stands to witness our first win at the National Tournament meant the world to me. He has been my biggest mentor and fan my entire coaching career; he watches every Lady Lions game possible by live stream from Kansas City.
Bryan notched a first-round win, advancing to the round of 16 after a thrilling come-from-behind triumph over top-ranked Siena Heights 72-68, in the NAIA National Tournament
The Lions opened the season with a challenging lineup at the Union College Classic in Barbourville, Kentucky where just three games into their schedule, Bryan outlasted Bethel University (Ind.) in a shootout en route to a new program scoring record of 113 points. The month of November was spotless for Bryan, except for one unofficial loss in an exhibition against neighboring NCAA Div. II powerhouse Lee University (Tenn.). The Lions held the Flames to just 58 points and kept it to a 10-point margin in the final score. Lee would go on for a 26-4 overall record before hosting the NCAA Div. II South Regional Tournament as the top-seed.
The Lions roared ahead for four more wins in December before falling to the 9th-ranked school in the NAIA, Indiana Tech. Bryan returned from Christmas break reenergized and dominated then 23rd-ranked Reinhardt University (Ga.) to set the tone in January. Their winning ways followed them into the month of February where the Lions extended their winning-streak to 15 leading up to the AAC Tournament in Kingsport, Tennessee. As a result of completing their second consecutive undefeated conference campaign (and witnessing the program record reach 56 straight wins against conference opponents), the Lions three-peated as AAC Regular-Season Champions.
Their efforts punched Bryan’s ticket to the National Tournament for a fourth consecutive year where they made their ninth all-time appearance, receiving a four-seed and matching up against fifth-seeded Siena Heights University (Mich.) in opening round action of the Liston Bracket. For just the second time in program history, the Lions notched a first-round win, advancing to the round of 16 after a thrilling come-from-behind triumph over top-ranked Siena Heights 72-68. Bryan was slated to face-off with the No. 2 team in the country, Marian University (Ind.), until COVID-19 forced an immediate cancellation of all NAIA winter championships. The Lions returned home 29-2 overall with a win at the Tyson Events Center and every intention on going even further next year.
Individual accomplishments included the duo of Deandra Luna and Kaitlynn Hennessee garnering All-American honors, Hennessee winning AAC Freshman of the Year, Karli Combs joining both Hennessee and Luna as All-Conference First Team members, Destiny Kassner making the All-Conference Second Team, Hennessee representing the Lions on both the All-Freshman and All-Defensive Teams, Faith Simmons being recognized as an AAC Champion of Character, and the pair of Hennessee and Luna each winning Player of the Week for the conference. The first of many milestones achieved on the year was Combs joining the 1,000-point club. Following closely after was Luna who not only attained 1,000 career points but also eclipsed the 500-assist mark.
The Lions shined off the court and in the classroom, as five were named to the AAC’s All-Academic Team: Sarah Cain (# 45), Karli Combs, Braylee Franklin, Destiny Kassner, and Tristan McClellan. These individuals completed at least two terms of attendance and attained a grade point average of 3.25 or higher.
Lions’ Head Coach Jason Smith also reached a significant mark in his coaching career, as the Bryan women’s basketball’s winningest coach captured his 200th victory while at the helm of the program. His leadership and the results produced by the team under his guidance led to Coach Smith receiving the AAC Coach of the Year award for a second straight season. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 04/15/2020-6AM)