The Sweetwater Wildcats are off to one of the best starts in the state of Tennessee and are currently climbing the state ranking thanks to a start that saw them go 14-1 in the first 15 games, with the lone loss coming in double overtime. According to the coaching staff, there’s no magic involved with the success, just hard work and the right attitude on and off the court.

“There’s no secret to what we’ve done this year and it goes back to hard work,” Sweetwater coach Jeremy Henderson said. “It started back when the dead period lifted and has been about strength and conditioning and these guys have done pretty much everything we’ve asked. The hard work’s paying off so far.”

For the Wildcats, the hard work comes from strong leadership. Four seniors provide much needed maturity for the team and three of the seniors lead the scoring efforts night after night.

“Leadership wise, it’s because we challenged those kids,” Henderson said. “Back in July, we didn’t have Matthew Kile at the time but we had Dominique Oggs and Kolbe Billingsley and Christian Baker and we challenged them in the weight room and when we were outside running. We challenged those kids to be the leaders of this team, to set the standard for what we want to be here in terms of hard work and focus and how we conduct themselves in the community, the way we conduct ourselves in the classroom. We’ve challenged those guys to hold everyone that holds a Sweetwater uniform accountable.”

“Coach has put into our heads that we want a senior-led team, so we try to keep the underclassmen ready to play, doing whatever we need to do,” Dominique Oggs agreed.

In addition to the upperclassmen leaders, Sweetwater has found a spark off the bench as well. The younger players filled in nicely when starter Kolbe Billinglsey went out with an injury and continue to pour in solid efforts since his return.

“They’re doing really well,” Henderson said. “Billingsley went down late in the Lenoir City game and was out for Christmas, and the next thing you know, we have a freshman in Jayce Upton that has to go in and provide minutes and he did a great job. Kade Correll, over Christmas, stepped up and did a great job. Kids getting after it and practicing really hard. We say that if your’re not all in, there’s the door. And all of our kids from top to bottom have really bought in.”

“And yes, it’s been nice to know that when I’m out they can still do their thing and still get the W,” Billingsley said.

With the Wildcats ranked as high as No. 1 according to CoachT.com, there comes a pressure to succeed, but the Wildcats are taking it one step at a time on their quest to reach the state tournament.

“There’s times you go out there and you just see a look in their eye,” Henderson said.

“They’re hungry, they’re ready to go and I’ll tell you, when you see that look in their eye I believe we can play with anybody. We’ve just got to take it a day at a time. We’ve got to approach every day with the same intensity, ready to go, and that’s what we’re preaching.”

In terms of the ranking and the accolades:

“We’re not worried about none of that,” the seniors chorused as one.

When asked about their toughest opponent remaining, each had the same answer: “Ourselves.”

The Wildcats will look to continue their hot start as district play resumes this month. The Wildcats earlier this week lost a heartbreaker to the undefeated Loudon Redskins by 2 points at home but will face the Redskins later again this season and likely in post-season tournament play.

Follow @SDCarterSports on Twitter or email scott.carter@advocateanddemocrat.com

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