McKaylee Mix is as familiar as any player in the history of the Macon County High School girls basketball program with the state tournament.

She's there for the fourth time as the Class AA State Tournament tips off this week … and she knows what to expect.

“We always, always, always eat at Longhorn and Logan's,” Mix said. “Last year, I think we went two or three times to Logan's. They knew we were coming. It's that and ice cream. We always get good dessert. We don't miss out on dessert.”

Culinary delights aren't the team's motivation … but they have been a nice perk.

“We try to make them a little more special (in the postseason),” Tigerette head coach Larry White said. “We feed them lunch every time on game days. They get to pick. We ate Big Ed's (on Saturday).

“We try to pamper them. We always strive for it to be a we thing, striving for everybody to be on the same page and happy with what is going on. We've done a good job with that. Everything has worked really well.”

The true motivation is obtaining what has been an elusive trophy consisting of a golden basketball.

“I think we're one of the elite teams in the state,” White said. “That's how we got to be ranked No. 1 for the majority of the year.

“We have a ton of experience. We have four seniors who have been to four straight state tournaments. We have lost in the first round, lost in the semifinals and lost in the championship game. All that adds up to the gold ball we haven't gotten yet … but we're not going to get ahead of ourselves.”

White expects that experience to pay dividends as his squad opens play against Maplewood on Thursday morning at 11:30.

“It will benefit immensely,” White said. “There's nothting like experience there. We've played six games in the state tournament (over the past three seasons). For the last four years, we've gone to (summer) camp there 28 days and have played in that gym over 40 times, on a championship floor.

“This team loves to play before big crowds. They have a lot more energy.”

Mix admitted that it's a completely different environment playing on the court of Middle Tennessee State University's Murphy Center.

“It's more pressure,” Mix said. “The lights just hit you on that court, like a strobe light. It's exciting, and it's scary. Everyone is anxious.

“But, as soon as that ball is tipped off, everybody just comes in and plays the game we've been playing for the last 10 years together.”

Mix is among the six of seven players in Macon County's regular rotation who are back in the state again.

Woodson is the newcomer, coming off the bench along with Mix.

“I know that the crowd is going to be loud,” Woodson said. “You need to be able to control yourself and focus on your game. We're really good at that. We feed off of the crowd. I think we're going to do really well.”

The Tigerettes have ended their season the past two years with losses to the eventual state champion, falling in the 2018 state championship game (an overtime loss to Upperman) and in the semifinals last season (losing to Cheatham County).

“That's honestly the thing that has driven us this year, the feeling last year,” Mix said. “Everbody expected us to win it last year. I feel like we let everybody down. That has driven us and motivated us even more, because we don't want to feel that feeling again.”

The Lady Panthers are led by junior guard Larose Morrow, the team's leading scorer.

Maplewood – which is coached by Tristin Johnson – enters the state tournament having won 17 consecutive games, including a 56-27 victory over visiting Marshall County in one of last Saturday's eight Class AA sectionals to reach the state tournament. However, prior to their sectional contest, the Lady Panthers' previous five victories all came by 11 points or fewer.

“Everybody is really focused on winning the gold ball,” Woodson said. “We work really hard at practice. Whatever we have to do to get there, we're going to do it. We work together.”

Macon County has won 30 consecutive contests since suffering a 46-43 loss to visiting Westmoreland on Nov. 25.

“This is the best team I've ever coached,” White said. “We've anwered every call this year, except the first Westmoreland game. That was the best thing that ever happened to us. We have been so much of a better team since then.”

The Tigerettes have held their last two opponents – Upperman and Red Bank – to season-low point totals.

“We try all year long to be on a certain path,” White said. “When it gets to Feb. 1, we change things a little bit. We practice less. We've been going about an hour each day. We've had good legs.

“These tournaments are when it counts. I want my team raising their level of play. We've done the right things.”

The Macon County/Maplewood winner will face the winner of Thursday morning's other Class AA quarterfinal between Melrose (30-5) and Nolensville (27-4).

“It's going to be fun,” Mix said. “State-tournament week is by far the best week of the entire season. The team bonds so much. I'm looking forward to the memories that will be made … and hopefully, winning the gold ball.”

Class AA Girls State Tournament

Wednesday's quarterfinal games

4:30 p.m.|Gatlinburg-Pittman (22-11) vs. Upperman (28-6)

6 p.m.|Grainger (32-3) vs. Westview (30-3)

Thursday's quarterfinals

10 a.m.|Melrose (30-5) vs. Nolensville (27-4)

11:30 a.m.|Macon County (32-1) vs. Maplewood (31-5)

Friday's semifinals

1:15 p.m.|Gatlinburg-Pittman/Upperman winner vs. Grainger/Westview winner

2:45 p.m.|Melrose/Nolensville winner vs. Macon County/Maplewood winner


3:30 p.m.|Championship game