CHAPMANVILLE – Entering her second season as Chapmanville Regional girls basketball coach, Kristina Gore feels that her Lady Tigers have the pieces in place to make significant strides this season.
In her first year, Gore and the Lady Tigers finished the 2021 season with a 3-12 record, but after a productive offseason Gore saw a team that was willing to sacrifice and work to improve.
“We had a group of girls make a commitment to put the success of the team ahead of whatever else they could have been doing as individuals,” Gore said. “Because of that, we were able to play north of 25 games and a full season of experience in.”
Gore’s first season as Lady Tigers coach got off to a rough start. Chapmanville, playing with a young roster consisting of no seniors and only one returning starter, lost its first eight games to start the 2021 season but won three-of-its-last-seven games and hung tough with the likes of Class AAAA Greenbrier East, Class AAA Lincoln County and Class AA state tournament participant Mingo Central.
The Lady Tigers took part in tournaments in Tennessee, playing against AAU teams, and hosted their own tournament, which they won defeating Mingo Central in the championship game, during the three-week out-of-season coaching period in July.
Because of that, Gore feels that lack of experience won’t be a factor in determining wins and losses this season.
“Being young won’t be an excuse we fall back on if we don’t perform well this season,” Gore said. “We expect our freshmen to play like sophomores, our sophomores to play like juniors and so on.”
The three-week period gave Gore a glimpse of an up-tempo style of plays that fans would love to watch.
“Speed kills and we’ve got some in the lineup now. We’re going to play with a lot more tempo and crank up the heat defensively,” Gore said. “I’m looking forward to the style that we’re going to be able to play. We will be a lot more fun to watch.”
Chapmanville returns senior Claire Dingess and sophomore Jaiden Moore are two regulars returning to the Lady Tigers lineup.
Dingess, a senior, averaged seven points, five rebounds and three assists per contest last season and was a second-team All-Cardinal Conference selection.
“She had to take on the majority of the ball handling duties last year, but will transition to more of a small forward this season,” Gore said. “I’m confident she’ll do very well in that role.”
“She’ll hit the boards hard on both ends and is a strong finisher around the basket,” Gore said. “She brings a lot to the table for us with her athleticism and she is strong and physical.”
Mahon, a sophomore, was an honorable mention All-Cardinal Conference selection after averaging eight points and eight rebounds last season as a freshman.
Gore said Mahon really came out during the second half last season and will be a difficult matchup for teams that struggle guarding post players away from the basket.
“From about the halfway point on, she started to take more initiative and look for multiple ways to score,” Gore said. “You have to come out and guard her or she’ll make you pay, but the area we’ve got to develop is her inside game. If she can add that to her arsenal, she’ll be difficult to stop.”
Also returning to the fold for the Lady Tigers are sophomores Riley Lucas and Chloe Thompson as well as senior Bryanna Marcum and junior Makayla Crum.
Thompson is another player that Gore says is a matchup problem given her length and speed.
“She makes great cuts to the basket and uses her length to her advantage to finish over top of people,” Gore said. “She led our team in blocked shots and grabbed over 100 rebounds in a shortened season.”
Lucas gave the Lady Tigers big minutes off the bench last season and Gore expects her to build upon that heading into this season.
“She’s capable of creating havoc on defense and has the ability to knock down the three-ball,” Gore said. “She stepped into a major role for us last year giving us big minutes and I’d like to see her build on that.”
Marcum, who sat out her freshman and sophomore seasons, came out for the team last season and provided Chapmanville with energy. Gore refers to her as an absolute dream to coach.
“She isn’t as experienced, but she goes hard every practice and brings a great attitude with her,” Gore said. “When she is not in the game, she makes sure our bench stays hyped and that is huge for us.”
Crum, a scrappy junior as Gore call hers, is another player pushing for minutes off the bench.
“Makayla is a little undersized for her position, but she’s a scrappy player,” Gore said. “She’s right there with Bry making sure our bench stays engaged during games.”
Senior Julie Campbell, who Gore calls an athletic and good soccer player, and sophomore Rylee Pritchard are two other players that Gore is keeping her eye on as the season progresses.
“Julie is a senior that has never played basketball before, but she’s doing her best in practice to learn and is getting better every day,” Gore said. “Rylee has played basketball before and has been around it her entire life with older siblings.”
“She (Rylee) has really been getting after it in practice,” Gore said. “She’s going to continue to get better with the more experience she gets.”
Gore is very excited about the incoming freshman class and expects them to make an immediate impact.
Daizi Farley and Haley Fleming are two freshmen, who Gore expects to contribute right away this season.
Fleming is an aggressive player with the ability to get to the basket any time and Daizi is a knock down shooter, who has been working hard to improve her game off the dribble.
“They are a special duo, and they complement each other very well,” Gore said. “Honestly, those two remind a lot of the dynamic Kara Willis and I when we played together.”
“Both have great speed and lot of intangibles that you can’t teach,” Gore said. “They are both incredibly competitive and give 110 percent when they are on the floor.”
Other freshmen who could push for varsity playing time include Aayla Browning, Brooke Christian, Savannah Kirk, Laken Parks, Makayla Parsons and Braylee Podunavac.
Christian and Parks missed the majority of the three-week period but are quickly making up for lost time in practice. Gore looks for both to play key roles this season.
“It feels like Brooke has grown a foot since sixth grade, which has really helped her be able to win rebounding battles and block some shots,” Gore said. “Laken is going to help us do a lot of things we want to do defensively. She’s quick and anticipates what’s coming next before it happens.”
Kirk and Podunavac are two freshmen, who Gore said worked hard in the summer to elevate their game to adjust to the high school level and will give you everything they got.
“Savannah has improved leaps and bounds and is able to take the ball to basket utilizing the ball fake to get the defense out of position,” Gore said. “I’ve noticed a lot of improvement in Braylee just in the first week of practice. She is a hustler and will make things happen on the floor just because she wants it more.”
Browning will miss most of the season with an injury and Parsons returns to basketball after sitting out her eighth-grade year.
“We will be excited to get Aayla back when we can,” Gore said. “Makayla’s another hustler that creates a lot of havoc and has been showing up early working on her jump shot. I really like what she brings to the table.”
The Lady Tigers will have the luxury of fielding a junior varsity squad, which is something they didn’t have during the shortened 2021 season, and will host JV Shootout on Dec. 3 and 4 at the Danny Godby Gymnasium.
Chapmanville will be joined by Mingo Central, St. Albans, Scott, Sherman and Winfield in the six-team junior varsity event.
“We are excited to host the first-ever CRHS JV Showcase,” Gore said. “We hope it can be an annual event.”
Chapmanville will be tested by a challenging schedule that includes games with Class AAAA South Charleston, Class AAA champion Nitro, Class AAA semifinalist Logan, Class AA quarterfinalist Mingo Central and Cardinal Conference opponents Herbert Hoover, Poca, Scott, Wayne and Winfield as well as Class AA Region IV contender Summers County.
“We are excited about our schedule this season,” Gore said. “We’ve got four opponents that were state tournament teams a year ago, and three of them were just a game away.”
The Lady Tigers will also take part in the Summers County Tournament on Dec. 10 and 11 at Summers County High School.
“I’m glad that Coach Meador extended the invitation to get us in,” Gore said. “We played in it twice during my first stint as an assistant coach and they (Summers County) run a first-class operation in Hinton.”
Chapmanville will take part in the Class AA Region IV tournament at season’s end. The Lady Tigers are joined by Liberty (Raleigh) and Mingo Central in Region IV Section II while Bluefield, Summers County and Wyoming East make up Region IV Section I.
This is the second year of the four-class system for basketball in West Virginia.
“I believe it’s here to stay, but time will tell if we remain in AA or move up to AAA,” Gore said. “We are in a unique position with only a three-team section.”
If Chapmanville can secure a first-round bye in the three-team section they will be guaranteed a berth in the regional co-finals with a shot to play for a state tournament berth. A win in the sectional opener would also guarantee the Lady Tigers a spot in the regional co-finals.
Gore said the Lady Tigers would love to play in Charleston come March, which hasn’t happened since the 2010-2011 season. Last seaon Chapmanville defeated Liberty (Raleigh) before falling to Mingo Central in the sectional championship.
The Lady Tigers were eliminated in the Region IV co-finals by eventual Class AA champion Wyoming East.
“If you can win that first game you’re guaranteed a shot at the state tournament,” Gore said. “We’d really like to be able to take care of business this season by winning the section and having a chance to play for a trip to Charleston here at home.”
“We’ve got Wyoming East, last year’s Class AA state champion on the other side along with Summers County and Bluefield,” Gore said. “Our region is definitely a strong one.”
Chapmanville starts its season Nov. 30 at home against Liberty (Raleigh).
“Our season starts at home against a potential sectional opponent,” Gore said. “Our goal is to finish up at the Civic Center, and if we meet that goal and have a good regular season we’ll have a shot at getting a good seed and hopefully make some noise while we are there.”