The District 6-AAA girls and boys basketball coaches met Monday at First National Bank in Sparta for a media day to decide who will be favored to win this season.
With games less than a month from beginning, coaches and media agreed the Cookeville Cavaliers and Lady Cavaliers will be the teams to beat when squads step on the court this season.
The Cavaliers were elected favorites by the coaches and media, while the Lady Cavaliers had to share the top spot in one poll.
Cookeville tied with White County for the No. 1 spot in the girls media poll.
Warren County High School girls coach Erick Baird thought the Lady Cavaliers are definitely the team to beat.
“Cookeville has Hannah Goolsby and nobody else does,” said Baird. “We’ll all be chasing them.”
The Pioneers and Lady Pioneers will each enter the season with something to prove.
The Warren County boys team was picked to finish last in the five-team district by the coaches, while the media poll had the Pioneers finishing fourth. The Lady Pioneers were last in each poll.
While the Cookeville Cavaliers, who return five starters from last year’s District 6-AAA title team, definitely have an advantage going into the season, Coffee County boys coach Scott Givens believes this year will be very competitive.
“Since I’ve been at Coffee County, the district has gotten a lot stronger,” said Givens. “It’s going to be a fun season.”
White County coach Eric Mitchell agrees with the assessment for both the guys and girls.
“It seems like everybody is pretty evenly matched on both sides,” said Mitchell.
Practice will begin next Monday, Oct. 27. Warren County is scheduled to begin its season Thursday, Nov. 15.
Following a year where the Warren County boys saw their streak of regional tournament appearances end at two, coach Malcolm Montgomery is wanting to see how the Pioneers respond.
Coach Montgomery, entering his fourth year as head coach, knows last year didn’t end the way he and his team would’ve liked and he’ll be using last year’s disappointment as motivation.
“This season will be about how we deal with heartache,” said Montgomery. “Last year was the first time while I’ve been coaching that my team didn’t play for the championship or were at least in the conversation.
“I asked the team, ‘how do we respond?’ after we have been left out of the party.”
Coach Montgomery will lean heavily on his senior class to try to get the Pioneers back to the regional tournament.
Warren County features three seniors who have had their moments over the past two seasons.
Tucker Smith was named All-District 6-AAA following last season.
Coach Montgomery thinks Smith is an athletic player who will spend time playing in the post and on the wing.
Kendall Rutledge is the team’s top returning shooter as he led the Pioneers in 3-pointers the last two seasons.
Rutledge will be needed to play a pivotal role for Warren County as the team looks for him to build on his reputation of being a sharp shooter.
Nick Simmons will be in the middle of everything the Pioneers do. The 6-foot-8 post will patrol the paint on defense and can be a focal point on offense.
Simmons has the size to score on the block and the shooting ability to stretch the defense.
Coach Erick Baird enters his fourth season as head coach of the Lady Pioneers, but he will do so without two key players he inherited when he moved to Warren County.
Gone are team leaders and All-District 6-AAA selections Lauren Wilkinson and Bree Smith, who accounted for 75 percent of the Lady Pioneers’ points a season ago.
Replacing two special players won’t be easy and coach Baird knows the scoring isn’t the only thing he lost with the graduation of Wilkinson and Smith.
“We have to replace the leadership we lost,” said Baird. “Lauren and Bree were great scorers and great leaders. We’ll be counting on some younger players to step up.”
The Lady Pioneers feature two seniors in the post, Megan Dishman and Rachel Nokes.
The junior class has four players with experience, led by starting point guard Camerie Martin. Jessie Newby, Lexy Holmes and Zaya Holmes are all defensive-minded players who will come off the bench for Warren County.
The strength of the Lady Pioneer team is sophomores Bri Melton and Brittany Myers.
With the addition of a strong freshman class led by Allison Hitchcock and Kristen Rowland, coach Baird sees his team evolving into a solid defensive team.
“This is the fastest team I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Baird. “We have lots of girls who like to get after it defensively. We’ll count on Bri and Brittany to do a lot of our scoring.”
The Lady Pioneers will have to turn heads in district as the team is predicted to finish last. Coach Baird knows it won’t be easy as the competition is tough.
“We’re anticipating some tough games in district,” said Baird. “Our district had three teams win in regionals a season ago and those teams will be strong again this year.”