By Chris Parsons / Staff Writer
Coming into the 2012-13 season, Barbourville Lady Tigers head coach Andrea Hillard had a slight advantage over other 13th Region coaches.
With an unusually large group of juniors (seven, and no seniors) to lead the way on this year's squad, Hillard said she felt like she knew exactly what her team was capable of from the word go.
“We set some high goals coming into this season because I felt like we had a real shot to reach all of them,” Hillard said. “From the time this group of juniors were in the fifth grade, it was obvious that they would have a chance to do something special.
“I watched as they took some tough losses over the years and saw a change,” she added. “There was a point when you could see that they were tired of being on the losing side of some of the beatings they had taken.”
As the season approached, Hillard said the team set three goals to reach during the season. The first was to win 51st District rival Lynn Camp's annual tournament, the Bowman Memorial Classic. The second was to win the 13th Region All 'A' Tournament and the third was to earn the top seed in the 51st District Tournament.
Just a few days more than two months into the season and the Lady Tigers have made good on two of the three goals.
On Dec. 20, Hillard watched her team hoist the 17th Annual Bowman Memorial Classic championship trophy and just last week, the Lady Tigers knocked off Lynn Camp at home to guarantee at least a tie for first place in the final district standings.
Sandwiched in between those two achievements was a loss to Lynn Camp in the opening round of the All 'A' Tournament.
All is not lost though. Hillard said the lone bright spot on missing out on the chance to play for an All 'A' championship is the fact the same group will get another crack at it next season as seniors.
“I told the girls after that loss that they couldn't hang their heads because we had more work to do,” Hillard said. “They get a rare second chance to reach that goal next season, so it's important to finish strong this season and learn from what we've done so far this season.”
Exactly what Barbourville has done is go 15-8 overall, 10-6 against 13th Region foes and 5-1 in 51st District competition. Not to mention it all started with a record-setting five-game win streak to start the season before falling to another of the region's top teams in the Corbin Lady Redhounds.
The Lady Tigers followed that loss up with consecutive wins over Jellico, Tenn., Pineville, Lynn Camp and Williamsburg in the Bowman Invitational.
Since then though, the Lady Tigers have been hit-and-miss and haven't won back-to-back games since Dec. 20. Despite the inconsistency in the win column, Hillard said neither she nor her team have panicked.
The fact her team has played a tough schedule combined with what she called a “shooting slump,” is why she thinks the Lady Tigers have slowed down.
As the season begins to wind down, Hillard said she has all the faith in the world that her squad will right the ship and eventually be in the mix for the 13th Region title and a trip to the KHSAA Sweet Sixteen.
“I know these kids are tired right now, because they have played a fairly tough schedule,” Hillard said. “Once things wind down and they get their legs and confidence back, I'm confident that we will compete with the top teams in our region.
“I've seen what these girls can do and I expect them to be in the mix for the 13th Region championship,” she added. “When it comes down to it, I have to have faith in them because if I don't believe in them, how can I expect them to believe in themselves.”