Lippe leading Lady Pioneers back
It’s hard to understate just how long 1,067 days is when you're talking about a losing streak like the one the Lady Pioneers suffered in District 6AAA.
In that time, the Pioneer basketball team has won 47 games (including 13 games in district), the WCHS softball team claimed two separate district titles (despite missing an entire season), Pioneer football broke a 30-year losing streak, McMinnville has had three mayors and the WCHS girls team has had two coaches.
The second of those Lady Pioneer leaders, Anthony Lippe, deserves a lot of credit for guiding this program out of the darkness.
When Lippe took over before the 2019-20 season, Warren County had lost its last 11 district games (and eight straight losses overall to finish the 2018-19 campaign). The roster was gutted, with the Lady Pioneers looking to replace over 80 percent of their production from the year prior. The county’s best prospect in the last decade at the middle school level (Alaina Stiles) had just been named freshman of the year in the district at White County – one of Warren County’s biggest rivals.
It was bleak around the Warren County girls program.
Imagine inheriting a group of girls and realizing you’re returning virtually nobody with playing experience from a team that couldn’t win a district game. And oh yeah, you play in District 6AAA, which features one of the best teams in the state (Stone Memorial) and girls already signed to play at Gardner Webb (Stone’s Emma Capps, now graduated), Belmont (Stone’s Tessa Miller), MTSU (Warriorette Gracie Dodgen) and Samford (Rhea County’s Mallory Hampton).
In his first year, the Lady Pioneers played all of those girls in the district and got thumped. It wasn’t any easier outside the district, where Warren County faced Bella Vinson (Coffee County, Lipscomb commit), Julia Duncan (Tullahoma, Lee University starter), Reagan Hurst (Upperman, TN Tech commit) and Brooklyn Crouch (Upperman, UTC commit).
Going against the toughest schedule in the state, Lippe ended up starting four different freshmen throughout the season. His lone constant seemed to be senior Beth Vaughn, who shot her way into a scholarship at Martin Methodist.
Predictably, the Lady Pioneers started Lippe’s first season with 11 straight losses before the team snapped a 19-game losing streak in the Smoky Mountains last Christmas. Back-to-back wins were followed by 15 straight losses though, making people question what it was going to take to get the Lady Pioneers back to winning a few games.
The answer: Time.
Now in his second season, the Lady Pioneers are 8-5. The latest victory was the biggest, going on the road and pounding Rhea County to snap a 22-game losing streak in district games. Along with a program-changing blowout in Evansville, Warren County has also went on the road and beat border rivals DeKalb County and Cannon County.
Those wide-eyed freshmen from last year still make youthful mistakes, but you can tell that Shelby Smartt, Mia Hobbs and Kyra Perkins have taken huge steps after being thrown into the mix early and often last year. They even have been able to take over on a mentoring role for PG Sable Winfree.
Winfree, a highly skilled freshman who has started all season, is going through the same trial-by-fire her sophomore teammates faced last year. She is leading the team in scoring and improving every game.
While the team wouldn’t be where it is right now without the contributions of seniors Erica Cantrell, Brielee Kelsey, Kam Nowlin and Madalyn Stubblefield, it’s fair to let your mind wander and imagine what this team will be with even more time.
Maybe in two years, it will be the Lady Pioneers who are rolling out a loaded roster full of college signees. By then, it will be a fully stocked roster under one leader, assuming Lippe is in for the long haul and the administration doesn’t veer from the guy who is slowly dragging the Lady Pioneers back to relevance.
In 2023, I don’t think we’ll be talking about 1,000-day losing streaks anymore. It’ll be more likely that we’re honoring 1,000-point scorers.
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Sophomore Shelby Smartt is shooting 41.9 percent from three this season.
Freshman Sable Winfree is averaging a team-best 9.3 points for the Lady Pioneers.
No Lady Pioneer has scored more in a game than Kyra Perkins' 19 points in a win over Rhea.
Sophomore Mia Hobbs is averaging 5.8 points and 2.4 assists this season.