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Winter is coming
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Kason Holder attacks the basket while coach Chris Sullens, left, and assistant coach Anthony Lippe oversee drills. Sullens is looking to rebuild a roster after losing the majority of his rotation from last year's 23-win squad. - photo by Jeffery Simmons

Sounds of sneakers squeaking on the hardwood and bodies thumping on the mat could be heard all around Warren County High School Monday. It was the official start of winter sports, with the WCHS basketball teams hitting the court running and the Pioneer wrestling team gearing up to grapple.

Two coaches enter the season with a good plan of action, aided by intact rosters from last season. Another, Warren County boys coach Chris Sullens, will be back to the drawing board in hopes of trying to build up another 23-win roster down the road.

Lady Pioneer coach Shea Panter and wrestling leader Matt Turner have high hopes for their squads. It helps to have dominant anchors returning, capable of single handily changing outcomes.

Tyra Wright, who recently committed to Charleston Southern, headlines the Lady Pioneer roster. She’s part of a six-player senior class which has been contributing for the past three years. Backcourt mates Emily Mikkola and Megan Patch, along with forwards Bri Young, Caylie Sherrell and Grace Rains, all have played at crunch time and know the ins and outs of Panter’s system.

The continuity was evident from the opening practice.

“We went through everything on the first day. Everybody knew what was going on and what we wanted to get accomplished,” said Panter. “We’re hitting the ground running. Everybody is motivated.”

Turner saw the same signs when his wrestling team started practice Monday. Growing pains suffered during tough losses last year should pay dividends this winter. Turner’s team is back, bigger than ever, and hungry to prove itself on the mat.

“We have a big group of kids. We were mostly juniors and freshman last year, but everybody got a lot of experience,” said Turner. “I think they’ve all gotten better during the offseason. I can see the work they’ve put in to get better. We have the ability to turn some heads.”
Allison Vasquez will need no introduction when the wrestling team starts its matches soon. The two-time state qualifier is back for her senior year and is primed to make a run at the state championship.

She may have company at the state tournament this season. Sophomore Ike Gillentine was close last year and has worked diligently in the offseason. The Pioneers have many others primed for breakout seasons.

Sullens doesn’t have the same luxury of returning established contributors.

Monday’s practice was filled with introductions to drills, and a step-by-step process of the Pioneer way. It was needed as the team will likely break in four new starters surrounding returning all-district honoree Sloan Seymour.

“It’s still a work in progress. Last year, we knew we could outscore most of our opponents,” said Sullens. “This year’s team is going to have to get it done in other ways. We’re going to get after it defensively.”

The teams will have two weeks to prepare. The girls basketball team is set to begin play Tuesday, Nov. 13 at Smith County, while the Pioneers will tip off at Moore County Thursday, Nov. 15. The wrestling team is slated to begin competition with a preseason match at Cookeville Tuesday, Nov. 13.

The basketball teams make their home debut Monday, Nov. 19 against DeKalb County, while the wrestling team will be at home Thursday, Nov. 29 against Cookeville and Shelbyville.