CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – While it certainly is difficult making the climb up the ladder of success, staying up there knowing there are dozens of teams ready to knock you off that perch can be even more daunting.
Houston County’s girls basketball program has made the climb, and head coach Sam Young has skillfully kept his Lady Irish atop that peak despite the many shots his teams have had to endure from some of the state’s best Class A programs.
For the third straight year, Houston County captured the District 10-A tournament title, and for the second straight year, the Lady Irish advanced to the Class A state tournament. But for the first time in school history, his program captured the Region 5-A championship and hosted a Class A sectional. And for the second time in the past three years, Young has been named The Leaf-Chronicle All-Area Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
“I’ve always said that it’s less about me and more about the girls,” Young said. “They go out and play. I coach. A coach is only as good as the players he or she has. I’ve been blessed to have girls willing to work hard, willing to buy into our system and willing to be unselfish and dedicated. They deserve all the credit.”
The Coach of the Year award is voted on by The Leaf-Chronicle sports staff while the All-Area Girls Basketball team is selected by the area athletic directors.
“This has been another great year for our program, and in a lot of ways it was different than last year’s run at state,” Young said. “Last year, we had speed and more of an outside presence in terms of offense. This year, we had less speed but more of an inside presence.”
That inside game primarily came courtesy of senior Madison Steppee and junior Breanna Boggs.
Boggs tore her ACL early in the season last year and sat our most of the Lady Irish’s run to the program’s first ever state tournament. But this season, the 6-foot-1 center returned and was nearly unstoppable the last half of the season. Her scoring average rose from 14 points a game to 19 in the final five weeks of Houston County’s season.
The duo helped Houston County capture another 30-plus win season as Young’s team broke last year’s record of 31 wins with 34 this season.
“Both of those girls could be interchangeable in our offense,” Young said. “That’s part of the reason why they were so effective in the post for us. Both were solid post-up offensive players and could score facing the basket as well. But their rebounding and defensive work were crucial as well. They also were terrific passers on the high post, and that was key. It was just really difficult to handle both of them at the same time.”
The heart and soul Young’s team was senior guard Abbey Dew. The Bethel signee was named all-state for the second straight year but became the school’s first-ever Miss Basketball winner when she was awarded the honor after the Class A state championship last month.
Madyson Middleton and players like Olivia White, Emily Mitchell and Bradee Wambles were invaluable to keeping Young’s success train moving without a hitch.
“Two years ago, we got over the hump with a district tournament title, so this team understood what it took to get to that high level,” Young said. “There were no surprises. These girls have seen it all and have accomplished nearly all of their goals.”
Houston County’s postseason run was one of the most difficult in the state among Class A schools. After beating McEwen for the district title, Houston County faced fifth-ranked Middle Tennessee Christian in the region semifinal. After beating it by seven, the Lady Irish then faced ninth-ranked Community for the region title, beating it in overtime. Young’s team dropped Loretto in Erin’s first ever girls’ sectional game to advance to state for the second straight year.
“It takes near perfect basketball for nearly six games to keep advancing,” Young said. “We’ve hurt ourselves in years past because we weren’t quite ready to handle the competition. But the past few years we’ve met every challenge, so it makes these journeys very rewarding.”
George Robinson. Prep writer. 245-0747. email@example.com. Follow on Facebook and Twitter: @Cville_Sports.