When I think of a tough Warren County high school athlete during the past year, Jaden Smartt is the first person I think of…and that includes football. Playing with an injured knee is one thing, but continuing to play on it when it keeps providing exceptional pain is another thing. Seeing Jaden Smartt take punishment in two sports, soccer and basketball, was inspiring. She never quit.
There are a few other things that I see in Jaden Smartt the athlete. Intelligence. She always knew what to do, was in the right position. Determination. She never backed away from contact or intense moments in a game. She was very productive at the foul line when it really counted. Humor. She is witty and can say funny things before practices and after games. Spirit. Jaden Smartt always had team spirit and was the ultimate team player who put her ego aside and did her job in a game.
One more characteristic. Articulate. Exhibit A is her answers to my questions below.
BD Newsletter: How would you describe your basketball career? Your senior season?
Jaden Smartt: Basketball has brought me to highs that I did not even know existed. I have made so many lifelong friendships on every team I have played on. I have also learned so much from all of my many coaches throughout the years. They not only taught me how to be a quality player, but also how to be a better person off the court. My senior season has been so special. This team is so amazing and I know they will continue to make Warren County proud. We achieved so many milestones this year, and it proves that the hard work we have put in over the years has paid off.
BD Newsletter: On a scale of 1-10, 1 being no discomfort and 10 being maximum discomfort, how uncomfortable was your injured knee this season?
Jaden Smartt: My level of discomfort with my injured knee this season was a 4. This group of girls and coaches made it so easy to go through the pain because of how hard they worked. Special shout-out to Trainer Tim, Zach Sutton, and Dr. Brown for always encouraging me and working with me so I could complete my basketball season.
BD Newsletter: What did you feel inside as you walked off the court during your final game?
Jaden Smartt: It is a bittersweet feeling. I was heartbroken because I knew I would never get to put on a Warren County jersey again. I also knew that the little girl who held a basketball for the first time and fell in love with the game would be so proud of what I have accomplished over the years. Even though my career as a Lady Pioneer is over, I am excited to see how the team continues to grow.
BD Newsletter: What would you say is the team’s greatest strength? What should the team work on in the offseason?
Jaden Smartt: This team is so special in so many ways. The amount of effort given day in and day out is the teams greatest strength. It is guaranteed that they will give everything it takes and work hard. They are very aggressive on offense and defense. This team is also very close. You spend so much time together that you become like family. I am excited to see how they grow individually and as a team during the off-season.
BD Newsletter: How did this season change how you feel about the contribution high school sports can make for someone on a team? The school? The town?
Jaden Smartt: High school sports have definitely impacted my life in so many ways. Sports have made me a more matured, self-assured version of myself. This season has given me the opportunity to lead and learn which is vital to the development of one on and off the court. Having a winning season brought more people to our games, and knowing that the school and community has our backs means so much. Sports bring communities together and seeing the support and great atmosphere in the gym can encourage younger kids to begin playing basketball too.
As everyone who follows Warren County High School sports knows, the Lady Pioneers had a very successful basketball season (24-8). I thought an appropriate overview of the season would be to have the head coach and five players who started at the end of the season share what they thought about their experiences with the team. Over the next several days, I will post an interview with a member of the Lady Pioneers’ basketball team. First up is the head coach, Anthony Lippe.
COACH ANTHONY LIPPE
BD Newsletter: How would you describe the changes over the past three seasons? Coach Lippe: We’ve made tremendous growth over the last three seasons because the girls have bought into the culture we’ve built and understand that “it takes what it takes.” We mention this to the girls all the time. We believe that you get what you deserve, and if you put in the work, then you deserve to have success. I feel like our girls reaped some of the benefits this year of all the work they have put in the last several years. Our girls now understand that they can’t just work on their game two weeks before basketball season. We have girls shooting and working year-round, and that’s what it takes. Every successful team around us has players doing this, and our girls have found out that there is no secret sauce, it’s just that you have to put in the work.
BD Newsletter: What do you consider the team’s strengths? Coach Lippe: I think our strengths as a team is how well we work together, and the fact that we really enjoy being around each other. I can’t say enough about how fun these girls are, it makes my job a whole lot easier, but I really enjoy coaching them.
BD Newsletter: What will you work on in the offseason? Coach Lippe: This off season we need to work on execution on the offensive end, boxing out and securing rebounds, and continuing to improve our free throw percentage as a team. These are all areas that I felt like we struggle with at times.
BD Newsletter: How important was this team and this season for you personally? How do you think this season affected the team? The high school? The town?
Coach Lippe: This season for us was extremely important to continue to make steps in the right direction for our program. We want to keep taking steps to build our program into something that we can be proud of year after year in Warren County. I think a season like this can help build confidence in what we are doing and show that if we continue to work hard that we do have the ability to compete with the top programs around the state. I think as far as our community, school, and town, they were proud of our girls. They could see where we started and how far we’ve come and I think it’s inspiring, because it backs up the fact that if you put in the work, the results will come. You have to respect the fact that these girls work extremely hard.
BD Newsletter: How do you anticipate developing a tradition of winning, competing for the district title? Coach Lippe: I think to develop and continue a tradition of winning, there has to be expectations and accountability that is passed on year after year. This is not only done by the staff, but by the leaders on the team. Freshman coming into our program have to be exposed this and held to our standards day in and day out. If you want continued success, that type of culture has to be spilling over. There is no way around it, and there are no substitutions for hard work. As we always say, “It takes what it takes.”
One word can sum up the Lady Pioneers 44-41 victory against the Lady Blue Raiders Friday night in McMinnville. Validation. The win makes this Warren County High School Lady Pioneers’ basketball team the first Lady Pioneers’ team to win a home region tournament game at the “new” high school that opened in 1994 — a 27-year drought.
There has been a prevailing thought in recent years that Warren County’s Lady Pioneer basketball program was not able to be competitive. People have scratched their heads wondering what has happened to the program in the past forty something years since the Lady Pioneers won the state championship. Coaches have come and gone. Ex-players have become coaches and walked away frustrated.
The win Friday night announced a new era in Lady Pioneer basketball. The win to advance in the TSSAA Class 4A Region 3 tournament felt like the Phoenix rising from the ashes in Greek mythology. It was more than an exciting basketball game. The win against Cleveland was a turning point in Warren County sports’ history that should be a topic of conversation this weekend in every store, restaurant, church and political candidate gathering.
The Lady Pioneers had been ranked 10th in the AP 4A Prep Poll earlier this season, and they are playing like a top-10 team right now. They are one of only 32 Tennessee high school 4A girls’ basketball teams that are still playing. 32 other 4A teams had their seasons end Friday night.
Monday night, the Lady Pioneers will play the No. 3-ranked Bradley Central Lady Bears in Manchester at Coffee Central High School. Last year in the region tournament, the Lady Pioneers lost to Bradley Central 60-16 in Cleveland. For perspective on how much difference a year has made, the Lady Pioneers lost to Coffee County last year 66-22. This season, the Lady Pioneers have become increasingly competitive against the No. 5-ranked Lady Raiders from Manchester in their four games. The Lady Pioneers are capable of winning more games this season.
HEAD COACH COMMENTS
Head coach Anthony Lippe summed up his feelings about the team’s significant watershed victory after the game. Lippe said, “This team is very coachable. They just keep fighting. I will take a team like that all day long. I can teach basketball, but I cannot teach how to compete, to have that grit inside.”
The Pioneer boys’ basketball head coach was at the game, and Chris Sullens shared his thoughts on the Lady Pioneers’ gutsy victory. Sullens said, “Good to see those young ladies compete together and have a common team goal. It reminded me of early days of building a program with players buying in and just chipping away to get to that level. Very well-coached and they execute a plan. The most impressive part is seeing how the mental and physical toughness of those young ladies has developed. They just keep battling, and every time they get knocked down, they get up. You can just tell they have one goal as a group. Those type teams are so much fun to coach, and it is enjoyable to watch as a fan.”
Cleveland’s head coach, Tony Williams thought his team had opportunities Friday night against Warren County, but his sharp shooters’ shots were not falling. Williams said, “Some nights I think they just don’t go in. When you have Paige (Moody) and Milan (Williams) who usually shoot between 35% to 30% from the three…and I don’t know what they shot tonight, but it was not normal for us. It was one of those nights I guess.”
Coach Lippe was asked about Cleveland having shooting opportunities but not making shots during the game. Lippe said, “They had shots, but I felt like our girls stepped up and contested shots…made it tough, and it went our way tonight.” Lippe was asked specifically about Mia Hobbs’ performance, and he stated, “she made free throws and she did a ton of things for us tonight. I am very excited for her and our team. We have never won a region game here in this gym, Charlie Dalton.”
CLOSEUP OF LADY PIONEERS STARTING FIVE PLAYERS
The starting five for Warren County, Sable Winfree, Kyra Perkins, Mia Hobbs, Shelby Smartt and Jaden Smartt were the same five players who were in the game down the stretch in the final minutes of the game. Sable Winfree was in the game until the final 18 seconds when she fouled out. These five players made invaluable contributions during the game.
Mia Hobbs was a major disrupter in the game. Hobbs is much more than a defensive specialist, but perhaps out of necessity, she has taken on more of a defensive role late in the season for this team. Warren County lacks height, and Hobbs who is an excellent outside shooter, focused a lot of her effort on the defensive end. Friday night, Mia Hobbs created a lot of turnovers with deflected passes, steals, and she often prevented Cleveland players from penetrating the lane.
Jaden Smartt fought all night in the low post against taller and bigger Cleveland players. Smartt contributed to Cleveland’s poor shooting percentage in the game by consistently contesting shots. She is the lone senior in the starting lineup, and it was her last game in the Lady Pioneers’ home gym.
Sable Winfree said the victory will definitely give the team confidence. Winfree also said, “It was exciting. I am ready for Monday.” Last season Sable Winfree was Freshman of the Year in the team’s district. This season she was named All-District and All-District Tournament. Sable is the team’s point guard who helps the team break full-court presses and sets up the flow of the offense. She can make the three and drive to the hoop with underestimated quickness.
Winfree was asked at what point in the game she thought the Lady Pioneers could win Friday night. Winfree replied, “I thought right off the tip we were ready to go.” Sable received her third foul early in the first half, and she spent some time on the bench observing the game. When asked how it felt to sit and watch the game, Winfree said, “I was very mad.” Winfree vowed to try and not get into early foul trouble Monday night. Warren County is a different team with her in the game.
Shelby Smartt is a clutch offensive player who has been Warren County’s top scorer in several games this season. Shelby had 12 points Friday night, and she got banged up driving to the hoop many times in the game. She is capable of taking the ball from one end of the court to the other for a layup, as are many of her teammates. Smartt has an uncanny ability to make shots against taller players. She is also a solid outside threat from the 3-point line, and Shelby will often get to the foul line with her gritty determination to drive to the basket.
Kyra Perkins was the Lady Pioneers top scorer with 15 points Friday night, and she jumped center for the Pioneers at the opening tip-off. Perkins is an offensive threat who rose to the occasion Friday night. She had two 3-pointers against Cleveland, and she made plays in the low post with her superior quickness and leaping ability.
Friday night may not have been the Lady Pioneers best game of the season, but they played well enough as a team to win. Coach Sullens mentioned how much this team works toward one goal together. They can increase the speed of the game with fast breaks, and with their superior guard play, they can work the ball around the perimeter to set up plays in the half court. There are no selfish players on this team.
FOR THE RECORD…
Anthony Lippe was 2-26 in his first season as head coach at Warren County. Last season his team was 12-14. This season the Lady Pioneers are 24-7, and are playing in the second round of the region tournament. If the Lady Pioneers were a college team, their head coach would be getting a raise and an extended contract.
When I was a sports reporter for the local newspaper, I did not hear anyone predict the Lady Pioneers would become this good this fast. I often struggle to analyze a game and a team’s performance. I ask coaches after a game for their analysis. Every opposing coach I have interviewed the past two seasons has praised the Lady Pioneers and their coaching staff.
The Lady Pioneers have become an intelligent, aggressive, well-skilled and well-coached basketball team. McMinnville should take the time to soak up what this team has accomplished. The team and staff deserve some acknowledgement, a celebration, an event for making Lady Pioneer basketball competitive and successful again.
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