How many basketball teams can return all five starters and their entire rotation and still be looking to build experience?
The Cumberland County Lady Jets fit the bill, as the youthful CCHS squad enters 2020-’21 looking to build off last season with a mix of underclassmen and seniors returning to the program.
“Our kids have waited over eight months, so we’re just really excited to get out there and actually play a game,” said Tyler McWilliams, who enters his first season coaching the Lady Jets. “We’re not going to be completely ready, but no team across the state should be completely ready tomorrow night. We’re going to try and focus on us and control what we can control. That’s been our staple all year.”
The Lady Jets went 12-15 last season and won the District 7AA tournament championship. Cumberland County is a perfect 30-0 in district play since joining 7AA in 2017-’18.
Cumberland County returns all five starters and each rotation player from 2019-’20 and will feature some newcomers this season.
“We return everybody back from last year except one, and I’m excited for everybody to see how much these kids have grown from last year to this year,” McWilliams said.
At point guard will be all-district selection Emery Baragona, a sophomore.
“Emery is doing a great job of learning how to control a team,” McWilliams said. “She’s taking that next step of being a leader on the floor, and that’s gone a long way for us.”
Reigning District 7AA MVP Abby Houston enters her sophomore year looking to expand on her role from last season.
“Abby is one of the best shooters in the Upper Cumberland, and is working on improving other parts of her game,” said McWilliams. “I’m excited for everybody to see some thing she brings to the table.”
Seniors Shelbi Smith and Madison Buffkin will look to anchor CCHS defensively.
“Shelbi recently committed to Reinhardt University,” McWilliams said. “Shelbi is a defensive specialist. She plays so hard, and tries to do whatever the coaches ask her. She’s going to have a good senior year.
“Madison is one of those players you love to have on your team,” he added. “She’s willing to do whatever it takes, and will do the dirty work. She always wants to do what’s best, and you can’t replace that.”
Returning for their senior season is the duo of Nerissa Scarbrough and Chloe Reagan.
“Nerissa came back after missing last season,” McWilliams said. “She’s just now getting back in the basketball mode, and she’s a piece that I definitely think will help this team grow.
“Chloe Reagan is also coming back,” he added. “She hasn’t played in a couple years, so it’s going to take her a little bit to get comfortable out there. I feel like she’s going to make an impact on this team.”
In the junior class, Josi Smith and Beth Ann Brewer will compete for starting positions and play key minutes.
“Both of these two bring different things,” McWilliams said. “Beth Ann is a good shooter and has an ability to make some shots. She can play a variety of positions.
“Josi plays hard and is tough; she’s going to get the tough defensive assignments out there,” McWilliams added. “She plays multiple positions as well.”
Jorja Anderson also returns and will be heavily relied on.
“Jorja is a great inside-out kid, and I’m excited to see the things she can do,” McWilliams said. “She can be a tough matchup.”
Grace Baldwin and Tia Swallows, both sophomores, are expected to contribute for the Lady Jets as well.
“Tia works hard every day, and players like that you really appreciate,” said McWilliams. “As the year goes on, she’s going to get better.
“Grace is quick and is a great defender,” he added. “We’ve worked with her on playing a little more under control. I’m pleased in the progress she’s making.”
Freshmen Jalynn Baldwin, Zayda Minnifee and Aleaha Moore will also make their high school debuts and could see varsity time.
Cumberland County’s identity will pull from McWilliams’ Upperman roots, as well as the past successes of Lady Jet basketball.
“I come from Upperman, and we play with a lot of speed, too,” he said. “We incorporate a lot of discipline and like to control how the game works. That’s what we’re trying to implement here.
“Cumberland County’s girls play harder than anybody around, and have toughness,” McWilliams added. “That’s the identity we want to keep here. We want to get everybody playing together.”
As a team, Cumberland County looks to grow their culture under new leadership.
“We’ve had a lot of conversation about what we want to do as a team,” McWilliams said. “We’ve established that we want our culture to grow, and to come together as a team. The kids have done a great job and are buying into that.”
Continuing their dominant run through District 7AA is a goal, also.
“This is our last year in the district, and we’ve done well so far,” McWilliams added. “We’ve won five district titles in a row, so we want to keep that streak alive.
“The next step for us is putting ourselves in position to win region tournament games.”
District opponents include Bledsoe County, Sequatchie County, Grundy County and Marion County.
Outside of district play, the Lady Jets won’t see any easy nights.
“We feel like our schedule is tough, and we play opponents that we could possibly play in the region tournament,” McWilliams said.
Along with Class AA foes, CCHS will face an onslaught of Class AAA programs and other state tournament contenders.
Non-district foes for Cumberland County include York Institute, Livingston Academy, Cookeville, Stone Memorial, Monterey, Pickett County, White County, Rhea County and Clarkrange.
Along with opponent preparation, COVID-19 will require attention throughout the season.
“As soon as I walked in the door here, I told them ‘I don’t know what this season holds, but I know we can control what we can control.’ We have to go do the best we can,” McWilliams said. “I told our kids they all have to be ready. I don’t know what this year will look like, but I know my team is excited to be out on the floor.”