KANSAS — The 1979 hit by Sister Sledge, "We are Family" fits the 2018-19 Tri-County Lady Titans, coached by Joe Morrisey: "We are family, I got all my sisters with me."
"The girls were like a family," said Morrisey, who guided Tri-County to a 29-6 record and a fourth-place finish in Class 1A. "They all got along and made it not too hard to come to practice. I have had some teams in the past where it was not fun to come to practice. They worked hard and got after it."
The 29 wins were the most in Tri-County, Oakland-Kansas or Oakland history, and it is the first time any of the above had made it to state.
The Lady Titans won the Little Okaw Valley Southeast Division regular season conference, LOVC SE tournament and the overall LOVC tournament as well as the Oakwood Comet Classic.
For his accomplishments, Morrisey has been named the 37th annual JG-TC Co-Coach of the Year, along with Charleston's Jeff Miller. He becomes the first from Oakland or Kansas since Rick East earned the award in 2000-01 when it was Oakland-Kansas.
Tri-County is in its fifth year of a co-op with Oakland, Kansas and Shiloh.
The margin of victories during the season is impressive. In the 29 wins, only three games were decided by 9 points (Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, Paris and Altamont), while 12, 14 and 17 points were the next closest games against Marshall, Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond and Arthur Okaw Christian, respectively.
Tri-County averaged 61.6 points per game and allowed just 36.0. The Lady Titans averaged 22.3 rebounds, 12.8 assists and a staggering 19.9 steals per game, while shooting 39 percent from the field, including 28 percent from the 3-point line. They were a 63 percent free-throw shooting squad and averaged 13.7 turnovers per game.
Morrisey, a Paris grad, used the same offense he ran in high school under the late Jerry Fulk, who coached the Tigers from 1982-1996 going 226-144 (.6110 with five regional championships).
"We ran a lot of pick-and-roll up top and isolations," said Morrisey. "The defense is something they ran at Paris Crestwood (junior high) with the 1-3-1 zone."
With nine letter winners and four returning starters back from a second straight Sweet Sixteen team, one that went 27-5, Morrisey thought they could have a great season.
The season started off with a convincing 53-27 win over Class 2A Tuscola.
"Tuscola coach Tim Kohlbecker runs an awesome program," said Morrisey. "We knew we had to be in shape against them, and Tuscola is a pretty tough team to start the season with."
Grace Burnside, Harley Barry, Tayler Barry, Kiersten Price-Wilson and Maiya Eskew were the starting five with Bella Dudley, Meredith Smith and Melia Eskew the main ones off the bench.
"We pressed and got after people," said Morrisey. "We would have a 20-point lead at the half and then getting it to a 30-point lead before the fourth and have a running clock."
Tri-County had 17 victories decided by 30 points or more.
There were several big wins throughout the season, including the championship game of the Oakwood Comet Classic on Nov. 23 against Oakwood, a team that beat the Lady Titans in the classic to Oakwood 49-40 in 2018.
"The had an all-stater Katelyn Young (6-foot-1 junior) and we worked on stopping her. The first time down the floor, Kiersten Price-Wilson took a charge and then Tayler Barry blocked it from behind, and I knew that took a bit out of her. We shot the ball 65-70 percent."
Next came the emergence of Dudley, a freshman.
"It took us four for five games for her to get accustomed to us and for us to get accustomed to her," said Morrisey. "It was great for her to see how hard we played. Here was a 13-year old playing against 17-18-year-olds. She got better and better. "
Tri-County entered the Charleston Holiday Tournament at 13-0.
"We got into the tournament to play teams like Effingham, Teutopolis, and Charleston," said Morrisey. "I think that really helped us for the regionals and sectionals and postseason. Charleston coach Jeff Miller told me, 'You guys are going to go a long way.'"
The Lady Titans lost to the three schools above but beat Pekin and Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, who finished fourth. Teutopolis placed second in Class 2A and Effingham was a Sweet 16 team in Class 3A.
The 2019 portion of the season started with a 62-25 win over Salt Fork in what Morrisey said could have been the best game of the year for Price-Wilson. Next came something that Morrisey had been trying to schedule for several years and that is a game with Paris.
"It was great for both programs, said Morrisey. "The girls came out focused and ready to go."
Another big game was the LOVC SE Division tournament championship, which the Lady Titans won 75-36 over Villa Grove/Heritage.
"The girls played really well in that game," said Morrisey.
After snow delayed the overall LOVC championship game against Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond.
"We played really good defense on Marissa Herschberger (the Knights top-scorer)," said Morrisey.
After beating Martinsville, Arcola and Effingham St. Anthony, the Lady Titans got back to the sectional championship.
"We had been waiting to get to that spot for 365 days," said Morrisey. "I didn't have to say anything. We knew it was going to be close. We did what we had to do. We played some man-to-man, and I think that helped some."
Tri-County dominated the supersectional 55-28 over Marissa/Coulterville.
"We played them in the summer at Greenville," said Morrisey of the JV girls. "We got after it and ran the ball really well getting layups."
Tri-County had earned a trip to state and Redbird Arena.
"I heard from people I had not heard from in a long time," said Morrisey. "It was unreal. I was told by Brenda Coffey (former Kansas volleyball coach who made several trips to the state tournament) to look around and as I stood the hallway looking at the biggest section of any team there. We had so much support. I have been coaching for 37 years, and I finally got to where I wanted to go. We had a great team that I had no issues with. When they walked inside the purple lines, it was time to play basketball."