The Lady Panthers took down Cameron 63-45 in the Class A state championship game to secure their first-ever state title in girls basketball and became just the second-ever Mingo County school, the first since Burch in 1990, to win a state championship in girls basketball.
“We felt like last year was going to be our year and for us, a state tournament appearance wasn’t going to be enough,” Tug Valley coach Clyde Farley said. “If we hadn’t won it, it would have been a disappointed season, and I know that sounds crazy to a lot of folks, but for us that it is what it was all about was winning it.”
The Lady Panthers defeated Class A No. 1 Gilmer County two times during the regular season and defeated the Titans for a third time in the Class A Region 4 co-finals to advance to the state tournament for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
Despite the two regular season victories over Gilmer County, Tug Valley was never held the top spot in Class A but following its win over the Titans in the co-finals of the Region 4 tournament, the Lady Panthers secured the top spot in Class A and won their three state tournament games by a combined 79 points.
“We had beaten them twice before and they were still ranked number one when we played them in the region,” Farley said.
Last season was also memorable for three individuals, Kaylea Baisden, Makayla May and Alyssa Newsome each scored their 1,000th career point in a Tug Valley uniform.
Baisden was the first to accomplish the feat on March 4 in a victory at Poca and May and Newsome each scored their 1,000th point on April 1 against Sherman.
“I really and truly believe that every time we take the floor I got the best player on the floor,” Farley said.
If the Lady Panthers are to repeat during the 2021-22 season they will have to do so without the services of May and Newsome, both of whom graduated after the 2021 championship season.
May, a first-team all-state selection, averaged 14 points, 11 rebounds and four assists per game last season and is just one of two players in Tug Valley history with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in her career.
“It’s hard to replace two 1,000-point scorers and one of them is your post player,” Farley said. “She could probably outcoach about 90 percent of the middle school coaches out there.”
Newsome, who Farley referred to as “The Dagger,” averaged 14 points a game last season and was Tug Valley’s best 3-point threat.
“Everyone thinks that Kaylea was our top 3-point shooter, but it’s actually Alyssa,” Farley said. “She would hit that 3 that would just put people away.”
Tug Valley returns three starters in seniors Baisden, Audrey Evans and Autumn Hall in their quest for a second consecutive Class A championship.
“I think we are going to compete again, and we are going to be very competitive,” Farley said. “We are not a one-woman show in any way form or fashion we are a team we are team.”
Evans, who Farley calls a defensive dynamo, was an honorable mention Class A all-state selection last season.
“I had two officials at the state tournament tell me that she was the best defensive player they had seen boy or girl,” Farley said. “That’s saying something, and I have had a lot of people through the year brag on her.”
“She is a hard worker,” Farley said. “She is the hardest working kid I have ever had in my coaching career, and she plays the last 30 seconds of practice like it’s the last 30 seconds of a tied ballgame at the state tournament.”
Hall, a four-year starter, averaged nearly 10 rebounds a contest.
“We expect her to score more this year,” Farley said. “Especially inside to take up some of the slack of losing Makayla.”
Senior Emily Hatfield, juniors Kristen Fields, Haley Gillman and Kinna Justice as well as freshman McKenzie Browning are competing for the final two spots in the Tug Valley lineup.
“It’s not a done deal right now, it’s kind of iffy and there may even be some flow there,” Farley said. “We can go big or we go small. We can more offensive, or we can go more defensive.”
Browning, a freshman from Lenore Middle School, has been impressive and has caught the eyes of the coaching staff.
“Everyone kept telling me how little she was, how tiny she was, but I see standing next to Alyssa Newsome and she is the same size as she was,” Farley said. “She is not as tiny or as little as everyone seems to think she was, but I think she will hold up well in big girl basketball.”
Justice, who has not played basketball since middle school, returns to the Lady Panthers for her junior season.
“She has picked up right where she has left off defensively,” Farley said. “She will have to learn some things and have to adjust.”
Depth was a concern last season for the Lady Panthers, but Farley believes this year’s squad is at least eight or nine deep.
“We were foul trouble away from being in trouble because we weren’t very deep last year,” Farley said.
Tug Valley will be challenged by a tough schedule that has yet to be finalized, but the Lady Panthers have games with Class AAAA Parkersburg, Class AAA Robert C. Byrd, Huntington St. Joe’s and Kentucky power Lawrence County.
“We are playing some tough teams that will have some people wondering why we are playing tough teams,” Farley said. “For us it’s all about getting ready for that second season. That’s what it all boils down to and those are teams that will challenge us.”
Tug Valley expects to be challenged in the Class A Region 4, Section 1 tournament. The Lady Panthers are joined by Tosia, Sherman and Van in the four-team sectional tournament.
Class A state tournament semifinalist Calhoun County, Gilmer County, who was last year’s top-ranked team for most of the season in Class A, Wahama and Hannan will battle for the section II crown.
“That is a good section and then our region is tough,” Farley said. “To get to Charleston you would have to beat Calhoun or Gilmer, and both are extremely tough.”