GARDNER — No one has had to tell Tracy Wyatt Raban about the “rich tradition” of PikeView High School sports. She’s been ready to sign on to build on that tradition.
Raban was recently hired as the new head coach of the Lady Panthers basketball team.
“It’s a very desirable job,” the Kegley native said on Friday. “Ever since I graduated from college, I have looked at that as a very desirable position.”
When Raban completed her NCAA All-American career at Glenville State College, Karen Miller was still in the midst of a 24-year tenure as girls coach at PikeView. Miller retired at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, and Raban applied for the position.
Throughout previous years, Raban knew that Miller’s job was secure, “so I took other opportunities,” she said. “But when the opportunity arose to apply for this one, I knew I was going to.”
She has 15 years of prep coaching experience in her background, including the last two seasons running the Princeton Senior High School girls’ hoops team.
“I’ve always been aware of PikeView,” she said. “I watched my brother (Josh Wyatt) play ball there, and then my dad (Bobby Wyatt) and Josh coached there.”
She said that when she was in high school at Mercer Christian Academy, PikeView was regarded as somewhat of a rival of MCA athletics, since the campuses were only a few miles apart. If a talented local girl chose to play for one of the two schools, it was a definite loss for the other.
Raban was a facilitator at point guard for MCA, winning all-state recognition and helping the Lady Cavaliers win back-to-back state titles in Class A girls basketball, when the school competed in the structure of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission.
Asked if she knew that at that time that her future would remain in the sport, she said, “I don’t know. I guess I always hoped it would be, (but I) never thought it would be right here at my back door.”
At Glenville State, Raban was a three-time All-American, making all-West Virginia Conference after all three basketball seasons in which she competed there. She was the conference Freshman of the Year in her first collegiate season, at Bluefield State.
As a sophomore, she was named Most Outstanding Player in the East Region of the NCAA. For two years in a row, she received the Neal Baisi Award as the top native West Virginian female basketball player in the state. Twice, she was named most valuable player of the conference tournament.
When the West Virginia Conference selected its “25 at 25” Anniversary Team for Women’s Basketball, Raban was a unanimous selection.
Raban returned to the area after graduating with honors from Glenville State, and reinvigorated the girls basketball program at Graham High School. She led the G-Girls to two state tournament appearances, resulting in her selection as the Bluefield Daily Telegraph-Pocahontas Coal Association Girls Basketball Coach of the Year in 2014.
After taking a few years off to begin a family, she was hired to coach the Princeton girls.
She said she now is even more appreciative of the effort put in by her MCA head coaches, Kenny Mandeville and John O’Neal.
“I can look back now, seeing and realizing the time they put into it, their work ethic and desire to be with the kids,” Raban said. “That’s been a big part of my teaching and coaching at Graham and Princeton.”
“Both schools were great programs to be a part of,” she said about her previous coaching stops. “Those experiences have made me grow, to mature.
“I feel that I’ve grown tremendously in knowledge of the game. I’ve been able to grow and to adapt, from program to program.
“You will run into a different talent level of the kids (at various playing positions). Some teams will be strong in the post and weak on the perimeter, or strong outside and not as strong inside. So I’ve learned I have to change my (coaching) strategies … .”
Working with high school students, she has the opportunity “to get them ready for the real world, what they’re going to experience,” she said. “It’s not just about Xs and Os, wins and losses. It’s being a great role model, and preparing them for what they’re going to face in real life.”
Her next location for that challenge is the PikeView campus in Gardner, where her father was head football coach and her brother was head coach of the baseball team.
“It’s such a rich tradition,” Raban said about PikeView. “Even when the sports programs are going through ups and downs, the school spirit never seems to drop off, and the fan support — which I saw when PikeView made its run to the state tournament — the fan support was unbelievable.”
“The support is just awesome … year-in and year-out.”
She said about Miller, “I totally respect her. … You couldn’t find anybody nicer than Karen Miller.”
“She has left great expectations to fill, and I’m going to do my best to meet those expectations.”
In Miller’s final season last spring, the PikeView girls again reached the state tournament, qualifying for the Class AA semifinal with a 59-55 victory over Fairmont Senior, the defending state champions, on March 11.
Then, later that day, the state tourney shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, putting a premature and devastating end to the Lady Panthers’ postseason run.
The group that Raban will lead this winter, assuming there is a season, will be quite different from last spring’s team.
At this early stage, she has only begun to assess the prospects, but had one key observation.
“I know they graduated all five starters,” she said.
Among the returnees, she said, “Hannah Perdue is one of the best front-court players around. And Anyah Brown, a post player, has seen some time. (And) there are some younger ones there.”
“We will be young — but they’re hungry,” Raban said. “They were on a state tournament team, and the younger ones did get to experience a little bit of what that’s like. (I know they are) eager to get their time.”
That time may be affected by the continuing threat of the coronavirus.
“It is an uncertainty. You’ve got to just take it day by day,” Raban said. “I hope that we will have a season.”
She expressed disappointment that the pandemic warped the length of the hiring process to the extent that she was unable to work with the PikeView girls’ team during this summer’s “practice window.”
“We were able to do a little ‘meet-and-greet,’ and I gave them a summer workout program that they can be working on,” Raban said.
When and if there is a season, PikeView fans are “going to see a hard-nosed team,” Raban said, “a team that’s going to play hard from the tipoff to the buzzer, no matter what the score.”
With an eye on a successful future, she added that the Lady Panthers will be “a very intense team, a defense-minded team. A team that will keep its composure and keep under control.”
“And, I hope, a team that people are going to talk about, down the road.”
Tom Bone is a freelance reporter for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph and the Princeton Times.