The press clippings were out there for the Lady Pioneers to read all summer. A splendid run last winter had several state rankings ready to place the WCHS girls in the top 10 in the state before this season. The hype was deserved - Warren County battled the best on the way to the region semifinals and spent all summer fighting against state powerhouses.
It’s one thing to be a preseason juggernaut though. Now, Warren County looks to send another message as a program, especially as a targeted team every time it steps on the court. Saturday’s run in the Hall of Champions wasn’t the message the Lady Pioneers wanted to send.
Facing two of the top teams in the state, Warren County fell short. The Lady Pioneers lost 53-35 to Bradley Central, a sectional qualifier in 2022, and were blown out 47-19 by York, last year’s AA state runner-up.
Warren County (1-2) had the same fatal flaw in both games - the offense just couldn’t buy a shot.
“I thought defensively we did some great things, but if we can’t put the ball in the hole we are going to struggle,” said coach Anthony Lippe. “We can’t shoot 26 and 18 percent from the field and expect to be competitive. Those two games we played Saturday are not up to our standards. We have to do better.”
Lippe has been lifting the Lady Pioneer program up ever since taking over four years ago. After a two-win season in his first year, WCHS was winning 24 games by year three and claiming its first region win since 1979. Many of the girls who made last year’s run so special are back, which made Saturday’s losses even more frustrating.
Contrasting styles seemed to bother Warren County. The Bearettes, a long-time state power that ended the Lady Pioneers’ season in the region semifinals last year, used overwhelming size to bottle up Warren County, while York’s talented guards protected the ball and kept the Lady Pioneers out of transition.
Without easy baskets coming in the halfcourt (against Bradley’s size) or in transition by way of the press (against the Lady Dragons), Warren County’s offense bogged down. The Lady Pioneers had flashes of brilliance, like Brienne Kelsey burying four triples against Bradley Central and Sable Winfree’s speed creating lanes for layups, but sustaining runs were tough to do.
Shooting woes like Saturday's should be out of the ordinary moving forward, though. Warren County is loaded with top-end talent in its senior class and Winfree, a junior, is one of the top point guards in the Midstate. The Lady Pioneers boast a starting lineup that features three upperclassmen with college offers (Kyra Perkins, Shelby Smartt and Mia Hobbs) and a fourth senior (Savannah Winfree) who could be all-district in three sports this season.
Warren County looked the part of a top-10 team in its opener, routing Walker Valley 58-13 last week on the road. The Lady Pioneers are hoping to get back on track soon while taking down some rivals from around the area.
The Lady Pioneers will travel to play DeKalb County Friday before seeing Sparta (Nov. 29) and Cannon County (Dec. 2) next week. Warren County fans can pack the court for the trio of games, which each start at 6 p.m., in support of the Lady Pioneers.
It’s early, but there is still plenty of optimism Warren County will live up to its lofty billing by the time the postseason rolls around in February.