NAUGATUCK – It's been quite a run for Coach Clyde Farley and the Tug Valley High School girls' basketball team over the last two years.

In the delayed 2021 season, the Lady Panthers captured their first ever Class A state championship, capping off a 15-2 campaign with a 63-45 win over Cameron in the state finals.

This past season, Tug Valley returned to Charleston, but fell in a 46-45 nail-biter to Tucker County in the first round of the state tournament, closing out with a 17-6 record.

But is the Lady Panthers' run over?

Heading into the three-week June practice period, and later into the 2022-23 season, Tug Valley will have some major shoes to fill.

Four key senior starters from last year's squad – Kaylea Baisden, Autumn Hall, Emily Hatfield and Audrey Evans – have been lost to graduation.

New faces and new players will have to step up.

So will the Lady Panthers rebuild – a term that makes most coaches cringe – or will they reload?

That's the question heading into the summer season.

“We've lost so many players so this might be kind of a rebuild situation this time,” said Farley, now in his ninth season at TVHS. “But that's the nature of the beast when you are a small rural school. But this is not a knock on anyone else, we don't go out and look for players to come in to this school. We don't. I'm so proud that our state championship team of two years ago had all homegrown girls from Kermit or Lenore. They were kids that were supposed to be here and I'm proud of that. Two of the girls graduating this year, Audrey Evans and Kaylea Baisden, I had coached them since the sixth grade, all through middle school and all through the high school career.”

TVHS is set to begin the three-week practice period on June 13.

Farley said he will do things “on the fly,” practicing some, scrimmaging some and possibly going to a team camp.

“We might go to a team camp at Alice Lloyd. Makayla May is there and now Audrey Evans,” Farley said. “We're also looking at some other options.”

Tug's senior group will certainly be missed.

Baisden, a 5-foot-7 guard, averaged 22.3 points a game last season for the Lady Panthers. Hall, a 5-8 forward, who is headed to West Virginia State to play college softball, checked in at 11.2 points a game. Evans, a 5-2 guard, who is going to Alice Lloyd College in the fall to play basketball, averaged 9 points a game. Hatfield was a 5-6 starting forward.

Tug Valley started out slowly last year with a 3-5 mark, but finished out strong, winning 14 out of its last 15 contests.

The Lady Panthers advanced to state with a 51-40 win over Tolsia in the sectional finals at Logan's Willie Akers Arena and then had a 58-49 victory at home over Calhoun County in the regional co-final.

Just one starter, rising sophomore Kenzie Browning, is back for the Lady Panthers. Browning, a 5-7 guard, averaged 9 points a game last season and is the top returning scorer.

“She's a good one,” Farley said.

Sixth man Haley Gillman, a 5-9 rising senior guard, is also back. She averaged 5.5 points a game last season.

“She spent more time on the floor last year probably than one or two of the starters, so she has a lot of experience,” Farley said.

Others reserves from last year – Hannah Cannon (5-1 sophomore), Kinna Justice (5-6 senior), Kristin Fields (5-10 senior) and Kaydence Gillman (5-6 junior) – are also back.

Three incoming freshmen from Lenore Middle School – Bailee Hall (Autumn Hall's little sister), Haven Deskins and Brooke Spaulding – are promising newcomers.

“All three have the potential,” Farley said.

The Lady Panthers hope to be a surprise in the end. With a younger squad, the pressure will certainly be off.

“It's going to be a challenge,” Farley said. “(Assistant) Coach (Seth) Ooten is already working on the defense and some things. I think that we still can compete. I know that some people think that I'm crazy but I think in the end we'll have a shot at going back to the state tournament. I've coached eight years at the high school level and have gone to four state tournaments and six regional finals. Based on history alone in this program, I'd expect to get to that regional final and play it here. I like our chances here at Naugatuck.”

Farley, also the Tug Valley Athletics Director, is in his second stint as TV's head coach. He's had success both times, logging a 136-48 record (73.9% winning percentage) and four state tournament appearances.

“There's nothing like the atmosphere at the state tournament. I hope to do this for a few more years. It's been a lot of fun,” he said. “I certainly hope when I step away that Seth Ooten will be able to get this job. I certainly could not do this without him. He's young and energetic – all of those things I used to be. He's got a great basketball mind and he works so hard.”

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