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Lady Pioneers getting closer

Sophomore Kyra Perkins is one of the young Lady Pioneers showing out this season.

Sometimes it is hard to quantify improvement, but in sports, it’s usually easy. After all, there’s a big scoreboard at every event and in most cases – except for local T-ball – it is on. Win-loss records are also helpful.

Anthony Lippe has found a way to get his Lady Pioneers to be more competitive in second matchups almost every game this year, especially against district foes. Aside from Stone Memorial, Warren County made huge leaps against Cookeville and White County (along with Coffee County).

The Lady Pioneers lost to White County by 36 on Jan. 12, then were in a one-score game in Sparta in the final minutes on Jan. 29 before falling by seven.

Warren County lost its first matchup with Coffee County, the state’s No. 3 team, by 44 points. In the rematch, the Lady Pioneers lost by 16.

Against Cookeville on Jan. 22, the Lady Pioneers were destroyed on the road 51-21. On Tuesday, Warren County was a tough call on Sable Winfree away from having a lead in the final seconds.

A lot of the team’s success is owed to the team’s ability to shapeshift defensively. Warren County has been using different zones to slow down opposing teams.

The Lady Pioneers used a box-and-1 defense to slow down both White County’s Gracie Dodgen and Coffee County’s Bella Vinson. Both players recently scored their 2,000th career points, but each were held below their season averages in the second matchup against Warren County.

For Cookeville, Warren County dropped into a 2-3 zone from the start. It seemed to stall out the Cookeville offense, which had recently had a poor shooting night from distance in a district matchup with Stone Memorial.

Some call it junk ball – including anonymously on message boards. Even Coffee County coach Joe Pat Cope said after the second matchup, “It was almost like they were happy to play close. They weren’t going to come get us – ‘Hey they beat us by 44, let’s get out of here and say we improved.’”

OK, sure. Lippe hasn’t produced a program-altering win yet, but considering where the program was when he took over, it still feels like people should be feeling a lot better about the Lady Pioneers.

When Lippe was handed the reins, he was taking over a program that had no freshman team, was graduating over 80 percent of its production in every major category and about to face the toughest schedule in the state.

In his first season, the Lady Pioneers won just two games – coming on back-to-back days that were sandwiched between 11- and 15-game losing streaks. Warren County didn’t come within 10 points in any district game and lost six by 20 or more points.

The last memory of last year’s season was in the district tournament where Warren County finished its season with a FIFTY-FOUR point loss to White County.

It was a dreadful year, even if there was some shining examples of player development. With a new system, Beth Vaughn was unleashed from the post and turned into a volume 3-point shooter. She parlayed her outside shooting into a college scholarship at Martin Methodist.

The Lady Pioneers also had freshman and JV teams playing plenty of games. It was great training time for some youngsters who are now playing vital roles on this year’s teams.

This year, Warren County already has 10 wins, including two in district games (both against Rhea County by a combined margin of victory of 81 points). When the Lady Pioneers beat the Lady Eagles, it was the program’s first district victory in 1,067 days.

Also this season, the Lady Pioneers swept neighboring Cannon County, beat DeKalb County for the first time in three seasons and took down Franklin County twice (important considering the Rebels will be a district foe starting next year).

With a talented young nucleus in place, Warren County is hoping to get more than just moral victories in the coming seasons. Even if they can’t ascend out of fourth place in District 6AAA this year, at least there is some positive momentum in the program.

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