Games like Monday’s make Jessica Holt want to rip her hair out.

Against Cheatham County, leading scorer Brooke Dowlen put up a season low in points, and Jo Byrns couldn’t get shots to fall.

But the girls basketball coach wouldn’t trade what she has for the world.

“Even though tonight was rough, I loved every minute of it,” Holt said.

Her three senior captains make it worth the hassle.

Dowlen, Grayson Bryant and Reese Payne have played together since the sixth grade and are averaging 76% of their team’s scoring.

After another strong start, the Lady Red Devils (6-2) are looking for a finish in Murfreesboro.

“We should make our senior year worth it,” said Payne, a Trevecca volleyball signee. “We’ve been together this long. It would just make everything worth what we’ve been fighting for.”

Their two losses so far have come to the Lady Cubs, who won the AA State Championship in 2019.

Games against schools like Cheatham County and AAA Greenbrier help all three prepare for what should be another tough region slate.

“They’re the glue,” Holt said. “They’ve been with me since they were freshmen.

“They’re part of my life. Sometimes people make comments about the influence I have on them and things I’ve done, but they have changed my life. Just being around them and being able to coach them, it’s the best thing I’ve ever experienced.”

The trio combined to score all but nine of their team’s points on Monday. Dowlen – averaging 23.8 points per game – put up just nine, but Bryant and Payne picked up the slack and scored 22.

They all serve separate purposes in the coach’s system: Dowlen holds interest from local colleges because of natural scoring ability. What she may lack in hustle, Bryant (12 PPG) makes up for with her frantic guard play. Payne (8.2 PPG) is listed at 6-foot-2 and brings size in the post.

Together they’ve won two district championships and a total of 66 games. But the Lady Red Devils haven't reached the state tournament since Holt’s appearance as a player in 1989.

“We’re in it for her,” Dowlen said. “She’s been there for me since the sixth grade. She’s fought for me, and she’s done everything she could for me. I’m going to do everything I can for her.

“When we get on that court, there’s nothing between us.”

Gone this year are perennial stumbling blocks Loretto and Summertown. In their stead are region powerhouses Clarkrange, Clay County and Red Boiling Springs.

Those three teams are a combined 19-3 through their first eight games.

Dowlen said what separates them from the competition, though, is the connection with her teammates on the court.

“We fight like sisters but play like family,” Bryant said. “We’ve always been close, and this is my family. These two right here, they are my sisters … I couldn’t ask for two better people to play with.”


Cheatham County (49): Lexus Cook 10, Macie Harter 9, Katelyn Sisco 8, Harper Dee 7, Ellie Pardue 6, Ashley Pfeffer 5, Montana Lee 4.

Jo Byrns (40): Reese Payne 14, Brooke Dowlen 9, Grayson Bryant 8, Millie Putnam 7, Julia Arms 2.

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