By Kyle Lovern
Huntington St. Joe (20-3) has been there and done that. The private school from Huntington has won five straight Class A state titles and are favored to win a sixth championship.
The good news for the Tug Valley Lady Panthers is that they made it to the big dance in Charleston this week. The bad news is as the No. 8 seed they are matched up against the No. 1 team in the state in St. Joe.
Meantime, Tug Valley (10-12), under first year head coach Maxine Colegrove, made it to the state tourney the hard way. After losing a tough game in the sectional finals, the Lady Panthers beat Midland Trail in the co-finals of the regional to advance to Charleston.
Colegrove is assisted by Aileen Perry and Seth Ooten.
Tug Valley will likely start senior center Hannah Armstrong, junior point guard Adreana Vance, junior guard Katie Robinson, sophomore forward Emily Baisden and freshman forward Taylor Parsley. Others that could see action off the bench are seniors Elizabeth Dotson and Lori Messer, along with freshmen Madison May, Paeton Marcum and Savana Wilson. Both Vance and Armstrong, two All-Area players, were injured and missed several games this season. Colegrove also lost Cassidy Runyon in the Belfry game to a knee injury.
“That hurt us defensively. She was an excellent defensive player and a starter,” the coach said.
“It has been a tough season for us. We have had 2 or 3 starters out most of the season, but my freshman have really had to step up and transition to high school basketball in a hurry,” Colegrove said. “Everyone knows when you are building a team you start with a point guard and post player. We played a big part of our season without them both. After our loss to Mingo Central at the end of January our record was 3 and 10. At this point they were giving up. So I told them that I didn’t know why they were going through the things they were going through but they could not just lay down, we still have a season to finish.”
“We would never say anything at the end of a game win or lose as long as they gave us 100 percent every game,” Colegrove said of her and her assistants. “I told them if they would make good of the situation and just play the game when all the girls came back we would be a better team. This held to be true and from that point on my guards stepped in sharing the point position and Madison and Emily played really strong in the post. We have won 6 of our last 8 contests and now we are going to state tourney. I could not be prouder of a group of girls. This is a very special group and I am thankful to be a part of it. They have such character and strong Christian faith on and off the court. I can truly say if anyone ever deserved this opportunity, it is them.”
The Irish are led by sisters Mychal and Mychelle Johnson who are two of the top players in the Mountain State.
Mychal Johnson, a senior, who is headed to Notre Dame next season is the team’s leading scorer. Mychelle Johnson, a sophomore, is one of the team’s top contributors.
Another good player for the Irish is Rachel Lee, who started the regional championship game last week 70 points short of 1,000 in her career. She scored 20 in the first half and four in the third period for a game-high 24. That leaves her 46 short heading to the state tournament.
The Irish are seeking that sixth straight Class A state championship and will head into the Civic Center as heavy favorites.
“As far as our opponent St Joe, what can I say? They are the best team in the state A, AA, or AAA. As I have told my girls, we have to go into this just like any other game,” Colegrove stressed. “We play the game hard and don’t quit no matter what. Just leave it on the floor and give us 32 minutes of solid basketball.”
“There are 42 other teams that would give anything to trade places with them,” she added. “For some it will be the last game of high school basketball they will ever play, but for the rest it will be motivation to work hard in the off season to make it back there.”
“Shannan Lewis has built an excellent program at St Joe,” Colegrove said. “One we all should strive to model.”
“Our goal was to get there,” St. Joe Player of the Year candidate Mychal Johnson told the Herald-Dispatch. “It’s one game at a time now.”
St. Joe’s last State Tournament loss came in the title game in 2008 when Wheeling Central prevailed, 41-37.
This is Tug Valley’s first trip since 2007.
(Kyle Lovern is the Sports Editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-235-4242, ext. 33)