Over the past two seasons, the East Nashville girls basketball program has blossomed into a Metro powerhouse, piling up 51 wins and a pair of District 10-AA titles.
East Nashville, however, which suffered a Region 5-AA semifinal defeat to MLK a season ago, never has reached the sectionals.
And while last season’s squad probably carried a similar level on confidence into the postseason before running into the eventual Class AA champion Lady Royals, this year feels different.
“We’re very confident,” sophomore Kaia Upton said after Tuesday’s 55-49 district championship win over rival Pearl-Cohn — her team’s 19th straight victory. “Everybody has been saying this is our year.”
That certainly appears to be the case.
The 25-2 Lady Eagles, led by a trio of double-digit scorers in Upton (13.5 points per game), junior Erica Haynes-Overton (20.0) and senior Le’jzae Davidson (17.5), haven’t been beaten since suffering a one-point setback to Lipscomb on Dec. 11 — a loss they later avenged with a 69-39 rout of the Lady Mustangs on Jan. 28.
“It has been a great season altogether with the bond that we have,” Davidson said. “We’re just like sisters. On and off the court, we’re tight, so this season has just been like having fun with my girls.”
They’ve had some close calls during the current winning streak, including a 58-55 overtime win over 10-AA runner-up Pearl-Cohn on Feb. 14, but their average margin of victory has been upwards of 30 points per contest.
“I’ve had a lot of these same kids the year we only won five games, so they’ve faced a lot of adversity together, worked through it and gotten better,” fifth-year coach Lois Donaldson said. “They’ll do the things you suggest, and sometimes make up stuff in between that makes me look brilliant. You can’t really call it coaching if you just make suggestions.”
That might be a bit of an oversimplification, but with the amount of talent and experience that East Nashville’s not-so-big three bring to the floor, it absolutely can appear as though the Lady Eagles are operating on cruise control.
“They have a lot of similarities — the will to compete and the will to win — but I think they each bring different packages to the party,” Donaldson said.
Davidson, a 5-foot-6 guard, has made 92 3-pointers on the season, shooting a team-leading 38 percent from beyond the arc.
“She’s itty bitty, but she does a great job of creating space and getting the deep 3 off,” Donaldson said. “She’s a great shooter.”
Davidson has signed to play basketball at Furman next season, but she’s not the only Division I caliber player on East Nashville’s roster.
Haynes-Overton, who, in addition to scoring, also leads the Lady Eagles in rebounding (8.8 rpg), steals (7.7 spg) and blocked shots (1.4 bpg), has received scholarship offers from Austin Peay, Eastern Illinois, Lipscomb and Tennessee State.
“Erica is the total all-around player,” Donaldson said of the 5-foot-9 forward, who has registered eight double-doubles and seven triple-doubles this season. “She can shoot the 3, she does a lot off the dribble, she has great athletic ability and she’s a really hard-nosed player.”
Upton, whose older brother Isiah was a former two-sport star at East Nashville before signing to play football at MTSU, already holds a scholarship offer from Lipscomb, and the 5-foot-7 guard is also receiving recruiting interest from Belmont, Chattanooga, East Tennessee State and Tennessee State.
“With as good as Le’jzae and Erica are, I don’t think they compare with Kaia just as far as her presence on the floor,” Donaldson said. “She comes from a very athletic family, and I actually had her as an eighth-grader so this is her third season with me.”
East Nashville, which also suffered a season-opening loss to highly ranked Class AAA squad Riverdale, will host Friday’s Region 5-AA quarterfinal against White House-Heritage — the No. 4 seed from District 9-AA — while Monday’s semifinals and Wednesday’s championship will be held at Lipscomb Academy.
“It’s great to see them having this type of success,” Donaldson said, “and I hope we can continue it for a little longer.”
BIG THREE CONTRIBUTORS
A look at the stats for East Nashville’s trio:
Name, Year FGM-A (FG%) PTS REB AST STL
Le’Jzae Davidson, Sr. 163-389 (42%) 17.7 2.8 2.6 3.6
Erica Haynes-Overton, Jr. 212-395 (54%) 20.0 8.8 3.3 7.7
Kaia Upton, Soph. 118-264 (45%) 13.5 4.5 4.2 3.3