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Eight Jefferson High School seniors, seven of whom played for coach Damon Smith while at Wildwood Middle School, have helped lead the Cougars into the Class AAAA, Region II Tournament. From left to right are Breanna Carpenter (1), Lindsey Carpenter (15), Caitlyn Brown (2), Catrina Myers (12), Maia Batt-Bickey (32), Jordan Carr (11), Macie Chrisman (35) and Tiana Armstrong (33).

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION — It’s easy to trace the success of this year’s Jefferson’s girls basketball team.

One only has to look over the roster, where eight seniors all share that special sense of togetherness which has helped guide the Cougars to an undefeated regular season and an Class AAAA, Region II, Section II championship.

Breanna Carpenter, Lindsey Carpenter, Caitlyn Brown, Maia Batt-Bickey, Jordan Carr, Macie Chrisman, Catrina Myers and Tiana Armstrong will leave a huge void in Jefferson’s roster when they graduate this spring, but their long journey is one worth telling.

With the exception of Myers, all of the Cougar seniors have been teammates ever since their days at Wildwood Middle School. Myers played for Shepherdstown Middle School, but the other seven seniors took her right in as one of their own.

Throw in the fact current Jefferson coach Damon Smith also coached these Wildwood girls in sixth and seventh grade, and the connection is easily established.

“Coach Smith was our coach in sixth and seventh grade,” Chrisman said following Jefferson’s 51-36 win over Musselman the sectional championship game last Thursday. He saw a lot of potential in us back in middle school.

Smith, in his fourth season as the Cougar girls’ head coach, did not coach this group in eighth grade as he had moved across the street to Jefferson High, first as the junior varsity coach, then as the Cougars’ varsity coach. So when his former Wildwood group moved into the varsity ranks, they already knew what to expect, in terms of commitment and style of play.

One of the first things Lewis did was let the players know it’s a big jump from middle school to high school basketball.

“He sees more potential is us now, so he wants us to work harder,” Chrisman said. “He gets on us a little more because he wants us to get better. High school ball is a lot faster speed than middle school.”

If there was any transitional period from the middle to high school level for this group, it was quick. As juniors, this group felt the sting from last year’s loss to Martinsburg in the Class AAA, Region II championship game.

The loss was just the motivation Jefferson needed to carry through to this season. Add the long delay to the start of the season, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that motivation intensified.

While there have been few close game this regular season, the Cougars have remained solid. When Smith called timeout to settle his team down during a 49-39 win over cross-county rival Washington on Saturday, April 3, he wasn’t happy.

His players all knew it, so with the seniors leading the way, Jefferson came out of the huddle with a lot more intensity and took back control of the game.

“They’re like my kids,” Smith said.  “We basically ran the same system when I was at Wildwood Middle, so when I came over to Jefferson, it was more of adjusting the system to fit the high school level of play. It’s definitely made my job easy. They know what to expect of me. I know what they’re good at, what they’re not good at.”

Chrisman noted the way defense is played on the high school level is different. From her low-post position in the lane, she scraps for every rebound, every loose ball.

Chrisman had eight points against the Applemen last Thursday, but her rebounding was a big key. She finished with 11 rebounds.

“We had the height advantage against Musselman,” Chrisman said. “We had to be ready for any pressure because we knew they were going to come right at us at the beginning. We needed to stay confident, stay calm, pass the ball around, work with each other.”

Jefferson easily out-rebounded Musselman.

“We talk up the defense, play as a team,” Carr, who had four rebounds, said.

Smith had to give another one of his talks early in Thursday’s game. Although the Cougars went on a 9-0 run to start the game, Musselman kept it close, never letting the Cougars turn the game into a blowout.

“I think we came out a little sluggish in the second half,” Smith said. “We didn’t have a lot of energy. We thought we had already won the game. You can’t do that against a team like Musselman. You’ve got to keep playing the full time.”

Heaven Murray led Jefferson with 10 points, five rebounds and four steals.

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