By Anthony S. Puca
Boyd West, head coach of the defending state champion Marshall County High School Tigerettes knows what it takes to repeat as state basketball champions and he has his squad prepared for the challenges ahead.
West took over the head coaching duties from David Steely, who resigned shortly after the Tigerettes won the school's fourth state title last year in Murfreesboro, but he is no stranger to the program or the players.
"The transition has gone well, the only difference is now I make all the decisions. When you have five seniors on the team that have been through the battles it makes it a lot easier. These girls know what it takes," West smiled and said.
"You get better in the off season, not when the season starts," said West in an interview last week at Lewisburg Middle School where he was helping their new girls coach Sara Hornett implement the same on court strategies employed by the high school.
"Our goal is to keep this program where it has been and hopefully we can hang a few more banners on the wall before I leave," he added.
"One of the things I talk about to the girls about is the tradition of the Tigerette program and I have challenged them all by asking them one simple question---Do you want your banner on the wall?"
West and the Tigerettes have been busy preparing for the season and preparing for life after basketball.
TSSAA guidelines do not allow formal basketball practices to begin until Oct. 27, but West and the Tigerettes have been busy with a rigorous off-season conditioning program that the coach said is essential to the upcoming season's success.
The conditioning program includes running the football field everyday and lifting weights two days a week.
"We are doing a lot of leg stuff to prepare the team," West said. "We are going to run the floor, we are going to be fast, and we are going to be up-tempo, all the time."
"What we are doing now as far as conditioning will help as the season goes on and we will be stronger by the time we get to the district and region tournaments late in the year."
When the Tigerettes are not in the midst of the rigorous workouts, they are cementing their place in the great tradition of community service and life off the court, established decades ago by former Tigerette players.
"One of the things I am trying to do is keep the tradition going and give back to the entire county and the community for all the support they have given this team over the years. I tell the girls, one day you will be the leaders in this community and some of the people you are helping now will be the one's who hire you for a job or give you references to move forward with your education and your future," said West.
"I want this community to feel that this is their team. When I was at Shelbyville it was amazing that fans would come out to practices, pack the place, just to see them practice. I encourage that here and want people to come see us, anytime."
The Tigerettes have been noticeable all spring and summer at various locations, giving back and enjoying every minute of it.
The team has made visits to Oakwood Nursing home in Lewisburg, stopped at every elementary school in the town to read to the students, held a car wash to benefit Memory Walk (A fund-raiser for the Alzheimer's Association), manned the health council booth at the October Fest, worked the Marshall Elementary School carnival, and helped at last weekend's Goats, Music, and More Festival, handing out drinks, recording finishing times, and supporting the 5K runners.
"The girls have enjoyed every minute of the work," said West. "Every player has contributed, not one has backed out from anything. They washed every car, read to every kid, and have become role models. All the kids look up to them and want to be like them. What we are doing represents the school and represents everybody."
The Tigerettes are also champions and role models in the classroom, with a combined team G.P.A. of 3.18. "Our goal for this season is to bring that average up to 3.4 and I know they will accomplish that," said West.
Jakerra Simmons is the leader in the academic average with a perfect 4.0 G.P.A. and West attributes her on court awareness directly to her prowess in the classroom.
"Jakerra is very smart and it shows on the basketball court with her awareness and her ability to see things developing around her. She just knows what to do," said the coach.
Can the Tigerettes repeat is the question everyone asks and West responded to that question by saying, "With what we have already done, the battles we have already been through, the depth we have on the team, the athleticism we can put out there every night, the work we have put in, I think we have a very, very, very good chance of being back at the state tournament. It also takes a little bit of luck to go your way."
No team has repeated as Class AA champions since Jackson County won four consecutive titles beginning in 2000. The Tigerettes have a good chance to win back to back, especially with the leadership of West, the returning cast of five seniors, and the preparation that has taken place since that glorious day last March.