For the last five years Princeton has struggled in a section featuring Class AAAA powers Beckley and Greenbrier East.
Coach Matt Smith is hoping this year his Tigers can take the next steps towards advancing out of the section and eventually to the state tournament. Aiding the cause is a roster full of experience.
“We actually have quite a few returners that played significant minutes for us last year,” Smith said. “Our first two off the bench also played some good minutes for us last year on the varsity level so we feel pretty good about that. We’ll probably be led by our two seniors in Sadie Boggess and Lauren Parish. Both of which were honorable mentions last year so we’re expecting a lot from them, especially as seniors.”
Having that many returners does numbers for the chemistry of the Tigers. It means they’ve all experienced that feeling of coming up short. It’s created a fire that Smith believes fuels the team’s greatest strength.
“Our biggest strength is probably our mentality,” Smith said. “Our girls want to be good and they want to work hard. If we maintain that it’ll smooth over some of the shortcomings we have in other places. They’re a very driven group. The first day after sectionals when we got beat by (Greenbrier) East I had girls come up to me and ask when they could get back in the gym and work in the offseason. Just that mentality and wanting to be good, it’ll help some of the shortcomings we do have. We’re not the biggest team of the fastest team so that’ll help. I think that’s a strength.”
In just a six-month span Smith has already seen improvement from last season to this season. His starting point guard is an embodiment of that improvement and the first example that comes to mind when he’s asked about the improvement he’s seen.
“Kylie Conner, she’s our point guard and she’s a junior this year,” Smith said. “The work that she put in in the offseason, just developing parts of her game that she struggled with before was big. More so for her, with all the work she’s put in I hope it pays dividends. We want her to be that guard you have to have if you want to perform against the Greenbrier Easts and Woodrow Wilsons in our section. It’s a pretty tough section so we need her to perform. But overall the mentality of the group, even the JV kids, they want to be good. We have a lot of work to get there. They’re goal oriented and all have the same goal for what they want to accomplish. Those are things that are always good to have as a coach.”
Smith and Co. aren’t just hoping for a sectional win, they’re thinking beyond that but no the road only gets tougher the further you move along it. It’s why before even thinking about the postseason he knows they have to take care of business in the regular season to play those crucial games at home.
“I was kind of familiar with everything because I helped the boys 10 years ago,” Smith said. “If you’re fortunate enough to get through your section it only gets tougher. Our main goal is we have to take care of the things on our schedule that will help us get those key games in our gym. We’ve got to perform against Woodrow and Greenbrier East because the last thing you want at tournament time is to have to go to one of those places. Being able to host sectional games is huge. That’s our first goal – take care of our regular season and play those games at home. In sports when you’ve never been there you need every advantage to get there. Playing those games at home is critical for us.”
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