CHURCH HILL – Lady Falcons volunteer basketball coach Tyrone “Mugs” Smith is hoping her team will take the next step as they move to a different league and look different this season.
“Our JV team has been really good over the past three years and that’s basically what (the university) is,” Smith said. “Then you add to that three girls who went to college. I would say this is the best team I have had since being here because of the level of chemistry.
“They’ve been together since they were first year students. I’m not saying we’re the best team, but chemically we’re the best which is great. We have everything we need. I’ve never been so deep since I’ve been here, ”Smith said.
This depth is one of the reasons the Lady Falcons will use a more aggressive style of play in 2021-22.
“I don’t care about scoring right now. I don’t care about plays. We will defend – defense, defense. I’m a big fan of Shaka Smart, ”said Smith of the coach who led Virginia Commonwealth to the 2011 Final Four, spending six seasons with the Rams before moving to Texas for six seasons and now running the Marquette program.
“I made them watch (the VCU tape) when he was at VCU and there were these athletes, who weren’t really good scorers and played ‘havoc’ defense,” Smith said. . “This is what we feed on. We’re just going to run, run, push, push, jump, jump, press, press: have fun and play one match at a time and see who falls.
Smith said the Lady Falcons 21-22 strength will be defense.
Smith said the depth he has with this group will “just keep them, just keep them.” They want to do it. They are excited about it. We may have some fault issues in the first half, but it will be fine. “
As the team didn’t have a lot of college experience together, Smith did a lot of work during the offseason.
“In the spring we went to four team camps,” he said. “We played a lot. We went to Lakeway and played this competition there. I went to Heritage High School and I went to Greeneville and Cherokee. Then we played a game day with Tennessee High. We played basketball a lot. I took the opportunity. We didn’t play much last year because of COVID. “
While the team doesn’t have a lot of college experience together, they do. He also has quite a bit of experience of winning junior varsity together, something Smith hopes to continue to the next level with nine upper class students.
“I have three seniors who were in their first year when I first got the job here: Audrey Evans, Danielle Sizemore and Elise McKinney,” he said. “I have six juniors: Gracie Lawson, Emmerson Head, who transferred from Dobyns-Bennett, Addison Wright, Emily McPherson, who is currently with an ACL tear – she will be back in February, Kendra Huff and Emily Wyatt. Emmerson is not eligible for college until February.
The volunteer lost some offensive firepower upon graduation: point guard Atlee Dean, outside threat Kenady Knittel and forward Aliyah Crawley.
“Danielle Sizemore can hit a few hits,” Smith said. “We toured a lot. All of them – Veda Barton – can step up and hit a few punches. Ava Jackson can shoot. We have shooters, but not really (like) Knittel. It was a different shooter.
“Atlee Dean was a different point guard. I had no problem with Atlee. But Kendra, being under Atlee, can see what’s needed. Kendra, his speed, to me, is like John Wall’s speed. We just have to put her (under control). Once she can contain it and slow it down, you’ll be fine. Jacie Begley, being in first grade last year, she can help. And Aliyah Crawley. It was my LeBron. But Emily Wyatt can come in and be that. Seeing them, these girls learned a lot, ”Smith said.
The one who has lived through the wars that practically started since his first year and who is the undisputed leader of this Lady Falcons squad is Evans, the toughest and toughest defenseman on the team.
“She’s been with her since she was in first grade,” Smith said. “She was part of this team that graduated the last two years. Audrey Evans is the glue. If she continues, everything will be fine.
Volunteer is playing his first season of basketball in the new District 1 of Region 1-AAA, realigned by the TSSAA to include the Lady Falcons, Elizabethton, Sullivan East, Tennessee High and Unicoi County.
“I’ll be honest,” Smith said. “Looking at the program, it’s good not to see Science Hill and DB. I loved the battles with them to show that I can compete with them.
“But just seeing a bowling even with the conference, I’m excited. The players are excited and everyone is excited. So it’s good. It will be a good conference, ”said Smith.
“The funny thing is I’ve had these girls for three, two, four years. I’m excited about it. We have a good young nucleus. When you step into the new conference, that’s what you want, ”he said.
The Lady Falcons, who have played a few Hall of Fame exhibition games this week, open their regular season schedule at 6:30 p.m. Monday against West Ridge as part of the annual Hardee’s Classic at David Crockett.
“We’re going to Hardee’s,” Smith said. “I will always go to the Hardees. I love what Coach (Thomas) Gouge (Crockett Girls) did there. There is a big, big competition. So we’re going to go to the Hardees.
The Cherokee women’s team, coached by Jason Lawson, are also competing in the Hardee’s Classic this year. The two teams could meet at some point in the tournament. And while they’re no longer in the same district, they will certainly meet two more times during the regular season: December 3 in Cherokee and January 21 in Volunteer.
“Me and Lawson is like Duke and North Carolina,” Smith said. “I’m still going to go to Cherokee and play them. Children and families can come home and we can play. It’s funny. So, I’m excited about this too.
After the regular season, the next time the Hawkins County rivals could play would be the region tournament, as Cherokee is now in Region 1-AAA District 2. “This other team is tough with Grainger and Greeneville,” he said. Smith said. “So it’s going to be a good region. “
Last year, the Lady Falcons achieved their season goal of qualifying for the region. They traveled to Sevier County – where many teams’ basketball seasons have ended over the years – and lost to the Bearettes, 46-32.
“We came to the area and it was a big thing for us,” said Smith, whose goal is to “keep growing. Now I just want to go deeper. I want to get closer to the sub-state. and see if we can do it. Our goal was never to get it affirmed. Our goal was to get to the area.
“Now that we are in the region, let’s go beyond the region. We will proceed step by step and continue in this new conference, ”he said. “Even though there is chemistry, these are all new kids entering university. So, we will sometimes run into a wall, take bruises. But it’s not about now; this is how we end in february.