The real games are about to begin for the Warren County High School basketball teams.
No matter how well or poorly a team is playing in the first two months, a good run through January and February will tell the tale for the year. Nobody is more aware of this fact than coaches Chris Sullens and Shea Panter.
Both are eagerly anticipating the start of district play for different reasons. Sullens will get a chance to see if his 11-5 Pioneers are going to be able to compete again for a title, while Panter knows a good run in district play will bury the memory of a sluggish 7-9 start.
“We will focus on Stone Memorial after we play Saturday. We make our team fully aware of district teams – how they are performing, their strengths and other things,” said Sullens. “We try to make our guys understand every game has importance. We never want our guys to think we can take nights off because of the game, the opponent or the situation.
“Our staff will work diligently this weekend to make sure we know all we need to know about Stone Memorial.”
Panter wants to use the two games before district play - Thursday's matchup with Coffee County and Saturday at Livingston Academy - as final tune-ups.
"We are trying to get everyone going," said Panter. "In order to be successful during district play, it's going to take five Lady Pioneers on the floor playing as one. We are using the last two games to find that flow."
District play begins next Tuesday at Charlie Dalton Gym, when Stone Memorial comes to town to start a slate of eight games in the span of five weeks which will determine each team’s fate. The lone non-district game left will be a trip to Grundy County Thursday, Jan. 10.
District 6AAA will offer plenty of competition on both sides.
Stone Memorial, last year’s boys champion, is still a force. Panther point guard Brett Newcombe was one of the best players in the district last season, while 6-foot-7 post Justin Headrick has collected several college offers in first two months of the season.
Cookeville collected 14 wins before Christmas Break, including winning the Sonic Shootout that featured every district team aside from Stone Memorial. The Cavaliers toppled Warren County 60-44 on their way to the title.
White County (12-4) reached the finals of the Sonic Shootout, led by Grant Slatten. Slatten, who missed several games last year after a facial fracture, has been on a redemption tour this year and is proving to be one of the best scorers in the district.
On the girls side, the White County Warriorettes are rolling. White County, led by MTSU commit Gracie Dodgen, is currently 16-0. The Warriorettes won two tournaments in December, claiming titles in the Sonic Shootout and Sunshine Classic.
The Stone Memorial Lady Panthers also were victorious over break, taking the crown in the Holiday Basketball Classic in Palm Beach.
Cookeville (14-5) and Rhea County (8-8) are also poised to be big problems once the district games begin.
The Pioneers are currently leaning on sophomore CJ Taylor, who averages a team-high 17.1 points per game. Last year’s honorable mention all-district selection Sloan Seymour is scoring 10.3 points per game.
The Lady Pioneers are relying on the senior post duo of Grace Rains (13.4 ppg) and Tyra Wright (10.6 ppg).
Thursday’s matchups against Coffee County were in progress at press time. More information will follow in Sunday’s Southern Standard.