TANNER — Waiting outside Tanner High’s locker room, Pat Greene wrapped her arms around Sydney Houston and Victoria Waite as they were leaving the gym.
The meeting was brief. Just long enough to remind the Tanner guards about the team’s ongoing postseason theme.
“These two young ladies right here, they’re two of my little Cinderellas,” said Greene, a longtime Tanner assistant coach.
These days, fairy tales are as important to Tanner girls basketball as jump shots and ball screens.
Yes, the slipper fits. Nice and snug.
And according to Tanner’s players, they aren’t taking the imaginary magical shoes off until this fairy tale of underdogs and triumph reaches its final chapter.
“That’s who we are. We’re Cinderella, and the postseason is our ball,” said Houston, a junior guard. “We’re the team that everyone wrote off, and now we’re out to prove everyone wrong.”
So far, so good.
Sure, the Cinderella theme may be a basketball cliché, but the Rattlers love the concept.
And the billing fits.
Tanner (12-15) closed the regular season strong, picking up several marquee wins in the final weeks. The Rattlers won the Limestone County championship after beating Class 5A No. 9 East Limestone and Clements, and then shook up the Class 2A Northwest Regional with an upset of fourth-ranked Lexington on Saturday in the Area 16 title game.
Tanner hosts Phil Campbell today in a Class 2A sub-regional game, with the winner advancing to next week’s Northwest Regional at Wallace State-Hanceville. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Rattlers’ fairy tale theme began last week before the Class 2A, Area 16 semifinals.
“Coach (Pat) Greene came into the locker room and asked if we had our slippers on,” senior guard Victoria Waite said. “We were like, ‘What? Our slippers? What do you mean?’
“Then she explained that we are Cinderella, and we’re going to the ball.”
A one-time fairy tale reference has now turned into the team’s motto — and superstition.
For tonight’s sub-regional game, Tanner’s coaching staff has made signs based on the Cinderella theme.
And the question about Tanner’s players having their slippers on?
“Coach Greene will ask us before the game,” Houston said. “Or at least I hope so. It’s worked every time, so far.”
For Tanner, this basketball season didn’t always have fun and magical vibes. It was almost a tragedy instead of a fairy tale.
There were plenty of unexpected bumps.
Tanner opened in November with lofty expectations. The Rattlers were ranked No. 4 in Class 2A in the preseason, but then the season began.
Multiple injuries to key players and a difficult schedule quickly took their toll, and Tanner lost seven of its first eight games.
“At one point, we were playing with just five players,” Tanner coach Larry Greene said. “With all of the injuries and the tough teams we were playing, there just weren’t a whole lot of bright spots.”
Those days are now history.
Since the holiday break, Tanner has been one of the hottest teams in the area, winning 11 of its last 19 games. All of the losses, except two against Lexington, were against teams from larger schools.
“Playing against good teams has definitely made us better,” Houston said. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re here now.”
Houston is a major reason Tanner appears to be peaking at tournament time.
The gritty 5-foot-7 guard is averaging more than 10 points per game, and her 12-foot jumper was the decisive basket in the Rattlers’ upset of Lexington in the Area 16 title game.
Tanner’s supporting cast has been pretty good, too.
Sophomore guard Kelsey Houston has emerged as a consistent scorer, while veterans Waite, Samara French, Alliyah Fletcher, Jasmine Smith and Kacie Dentleegrand give the Rattlers an athletic lineup with with depth coming off the bench.
“Am I surprised that we’re in this position? Not at all,” Houston said. “If we’re healthy, like we are now, I knew all along that we could be a pretty good team.”
Inside Tanner’s locker room, confidence is obviously high.
According to the players, the raised confidence, coupled with the team’s recent success, has carried over to their classmates at school.
“Ever since we beat Lexington, more people have been getting behind us,” Houston said. “I guess you could say they’ve been jumping on the bandwagon, and I love it because that means we’re winning.”
“We need all the support we can get,” she said. “Hopefully everyone here at Tanner will show up and watch Cinderella try and get to the ball.”
Contact Justin Graves at 256-340-2460 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.