District 6-AAA coaches were all smiles while welcoming Chris Sullens and Shea Panter to the fold Monday at media day. Time will tell if the new Warren County High School coaches will get the same treatment from their peers when games start next month.
Sullens and Panter, both hired in April, were each present in Crossville Monday as district coaches and media gathered to preview the upcoming basketball season.
White County boys coach Bryan Haley rolled out the red carpet for the new coaches in the room, which also includs Stone Memorial Lady Panthers coach Greg Tipps.
"One thing we do well in our district is we get along pretty well," said Haley. "We work well together, sometimes we may work too well together."
Each Warren County coach will be starting their tenures with their teams picked in the lower half of the district.
Bringing back five players with starting experience - including senior Brittany Myers - and adding big-time transfer Karagan Turner didn't seem to sway many on the Lady Pioneers, who are coming off their first winning season in over a decade.
On the girls side, coaches selected the Lady Pioneers to finish fourth while the media voted the Warren County girls fifth.
Myers, a starter since her freshman year, hopes to move her team up in the standings after seeing the predictions.
"Fourth is a good starting point for us," said Myers. "A regional bid is something we're looking for and something I feel we can get. The whole team has been working really hard this year."
Sullens, the former Boyd basketball coach, will also start by looking up at other teams in the district standings.
The Warren County boys were picked to finish fifth in both polls.Despite once again seeing the Pioneers picked near the bottom, Sullens doesn't plan on using any perceived slight as motivation.
"It's just a prediction - nothing more, nothing less," Sullens said Tuesday. "Our guys are motivated by wanting to be better on the court. They want to earn respect and realize nothing will be handed to them. Our play on the floor will determine where we finish.
"We don't want to win preseason polls. We want to win postseason hardware. That's the goal and has been since day one."
There was a clear favorite on both sides. White County topped the polls in boys basketball while Cumberland County leads the ways in girls basketball.
The prediction didn't seem to shock Warrior coach Eric Mitchell.
"We're very excited. We have almost everybody back and a lot of experience," said Mitchell. "We're hoping to put that all together and hope there's enough basketballs to go around to our guys who like to shoot it so much."
Basketball practice begins Monday, Oct. 27. Warren County will begin the season by playing in the Hall of Champions tournament at Tullahoma Thursday, Nov. 13 against Coffee County and Tullahoma.
The Pioneers and Lady Pioneers start District 6-AAA play Friday, Dec. 5 at home against Cumberland County.
PIONEERS TEAM PREVIEW
Chris Sullens had a simple message while at Monday's District 6-AAA media day in Crossville.
"We're going to do things the right way," said Sullens. "Being a lifelong resident of Warren County and watching and hearing some of the things that have gone on the last couple years, we're looking to get back to doing things the right way.
"If we get beat, we'll meet you at the end of the game and shake your hand and tell you, 'great game.' If we win, we're going to do the same. We're not going to put up with the nonsense."
Sullens is hoping to instill discipline and respect to his roster, one he admits will be very young this season.
"We're very young. We're bringing back only two players who are coming back with varsity experience," said Sullens.
Junior Holden Baker and sophomore Trey Cantrell were each consistent starters last season when Warren County went 7-24 and finished 1-9 in District 6-AAA play. They'll have to step into leadership roles this year, along with senior spark plug Zech Clark.
The Pioneers could be playing several sophomores and at least one freshman will get a varsity look as well.
Point guard Isaac Golden and posts Hunter Hawkins, Krojhn Calbert and Joelah Solomon should all see varsity minutes as sophomores. Golden moved up to varsity late last season, while all of Warren County is eagerly waiting the varsity debut of Calbert - a 6-foot-7 post who dealt with knee issues last year.
Freshman Isaiah Grayson didn't waste long in making a push for varsity time this year. During the summer, Grayson dropped 38 points in his first freshman outing. Since then, he's been a mainstay on the varsity roster.
Sullens is still waiting to see how his team will look once official practice starts Monday, Oct. 27, but he's already sure his group are upstanding kids.
"We've got a group of quality young men," said Sullens. "They're working hard. We'll find out in the coming weeks if they'll respond the way we want them to respond."
LADY PIONEER TEAM PREVIEW
Shea Panter is eager to get started as the leader of the Lady Pioneers. She wasn't as excited to speak at the District 6-AAA media day.
"I've been dreading this for a month now," said Panter, drawing laughter from the room. "This is my rookie year and I'm just honored to be a part of this group."
Public speaking isn't what Panter looks forward to, but she's undoubtedly ready for the Lady Pioneers to hit the basketball court.
The first-year coach wants to see if her group can carry over the camaraderie built in offseason workouts into practice.
"If we can learn to transfer how we've come together in the weight room and outside the school onto the court, we're going to be fun," said Panter. "We want to be competitive and make this fun. That's really what it is all about."
Panter will inherit a roster with only one senior - shooting guard Brittany Myers. Myers has been a starter since her freshman year and hopes to form a strong one-two punch with Cookeville transfer Karagan Turner.
Turner, a former WCMS standout who played the last two years for the Lady Cavaliers, comes to WCHS as an all-district performer already. Panter made sure to thank Cookeville coach Mindy Odom for the assist in helping the Lady Pioneers.
"Mindy's had her a while and we thank her for all the work she's done," said Panter.
Panter hopes to see other players step up around Myers and Turner, but realizes it could take some time with a number of players getting ready for their first varsity experience.
"We're going to be young. We really only have Brittany - our lone senior. We're looking for others to step up," said Panter.