By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
TAZEWELL, Va. —
There is experience on the floor for the Tazewell girls basketball team.
Among the most experienced is senior Taylor Catron and junior Autumn Hash, both of whom have the same aspirations for the season ahead.
“We want to go to the state,” said Catron, prior to the season.
Tazewell was close to doing just that last season, falling to Abingdon in the opening round of the Region IV tournament.
There is no chance of the Bulldogs forgetting that loss. The Falcons had gone 0-19 before the final weeks of the campaign, including three defeats to Tazewell before beating the Bulldogs with the season was on the line.
While Abingdon eventually advanced to state competition, the Bulldogs turned to spring sports.
“We played them three times in a row,” Catron said. “We played them four times and we played them three times in a row, and we beat them every time, but the last game.”
Tazewell, which finished last season with a 10-12 record, has a 7-5 mark this year heading into Friday’s contest with Bland County. The Bulldogs started 1-3, but were playing much better as Christmas approached.
“We have some good times and some bad times, but we are coming along,” Hash said. “I think we will be just fine as the season goes along.”
Catron, who was this season’s second recipient of the Pocahontas Coal Association/Bluefield Daily Telegraph player of the week, led the Bulldogs last season, scoring 17.0 points per game.
A three-year starter, Catron has continued her strong play this season, as the 5-foot-8 senior led the Bulldogs to three wins during that five-day stint earlier this month, providing 17.7 points, 5.3 assists and 4.9 steals a contest, a performance that didn’t surprise Tazewell head coach Jason Southworth.
“Taylor can really do it all, she can shoot, she can pass it, she dribble it, she is smart on the floor,” Southworth said. “She brings a lot to the table.”
While Catron provides a majority of her contributions from the perimeter, the 6-0 Hash can do it from the inside, and it shows.
“I like the roughness of all it, see all these bruises,” said Hash, with a laugh. “It is way different than playing guard, no offense Taylor, but it is aggressive and it is rough.
“You are expected to get bruises and you are going to be on the floor, that stuff is going to happen.”
That duo serves as leaders for the Bulldogs, who have nine players on the roster, and only one isn’t a senior or junior. Still, even an experienced cast needs someone to lead.
“They are very experienced, they are basically the moms of the team,” Southworth said. “They both do a real good job when people are not practicing the way we need to be practicing.
“They will step up and be vocal and say something to them. Their leadership skills are definitely going to help us out.”
Both Hash and Catron understand that is what they must do to help the Bulldogs be a success on the court.
“We try, we try to get them pumped up,” Hash said. “We try to work hard in practice and show them how our heart is in the game and try to rub off on them.
“We are going to have to come together more as a family, be more together and push each other and pick each other up when we are down, little things like that.”
Tazewell started the season with mixed results, dropping three out of four to begin the campaign, including a foul-plaqued loss at Grundy and a two-point defeat to Daniel Boone on a three-pointer at the buzzer in a tournament at Virginia High.
“(Taylor) hasn’t started off the way she wanted,” said Southworth, prior to Catron’s player of the week performance. “The other night against Grundy she played a total of seven minutes because the referees wouldn’t let her play, but that happens.”
The Bulldogs played in another tournament at George Wythe last week, winning two before losing to Chilhowie by four points.
Catron is confident that Tazewell’s goals can be achieved, starting with competing in Southwest District where Carroll County and Richlands will provide stiff tests for the Bulldogs, and everyone else.
“We have got to come focused on the games,” Catron said. “We have to work hard at practice every single day and keep pushing each other and be a family as a team.”
The difficulty of the early schedule should only help Tazewell as the SWD slate begins with Carroll County on Jan. 8.
“I like to play the best competition,” Southworth said. “That way when we go into the district we are not shell-shocked.”
While Catron can provide an all-around game that she hopes will open a spot up at the next level, Hash feels much the same about her ability to play in college.
Her brother, Blake, was a standout in basketball and baseball at Tazewell and is now playing golf at Bluefield State.
“That has definitely set a path for me to go down and high expectations,” Hash said.
She hopes to follow in his footsteps in college, and Southworth feels like it could definitely happen. Hash averaged 10 points and 4.5 rebounds last season, numbers he feels will rise significantly this year.
“Autumn just brings size and brute... She likes to bang, if the referees let her, she likes to bang,” Southworth said. “This year she is doing a whole lot better job of staying around the rim and really getting after it.
“She was young last year, being a sophomore she has come along and I think she knows what her role is.”
These Bulldogs have played together for many years, even before high school, and Hash knows what must happen to maintain a family approach that could lead to big things at the end of the season.
“We have played together as a team all the way through middle school and AAU,” Hash said. “We have to push each other and keep encouraging each other.”
After all, even experienced players need a reminder every now and then.
“The little things matter,” added Catron.
—Contact Brian Woodson