The John Tyler girls basketball team resolved to end their days of being able to simply contend for district titles with the end of 2012.
The Lady Lions begin making their case for first place in the District 16-4A basketball race today at Lindale.
The six-team district appears up for grabs. JT and Lindale both enter with 15 wins each and Corsicana and Nacogdoches with 14 wins apiece. Whitehouse won four games to end non-district, with Jacksonville just two years removed from a district title.
JT finished second to Jacksonville in 2011 and as district runner-up behind Pine Tree a year ago. The Lady Lions handed the eventual district champions their lone league losses both years, but dropped games to teams behind them in the standings to lose pace.
“We talked about how the last couple years we let a game slip away,” fourth-year JT head coach Mike Smith said. “We have to be ready every night. Our district is real even and competitive. We can’t have any days off. We have to play hard and well against everybody.”
JT and Lindale both lost in the semifinals in the Macy Chenevert Holiday Tournament last week, the Lady Lions to eventual champion Liberty-Eylau, and the Lady Eagles to Bishop Gorman. The teams did not play in the third place game, resting up for the district opener instead.
Lindale (15-4) brings balance to the table, led by the outside shooting of Neely Doss and inside presence of six-footer Zhanelle Geathers.
“Going to Lindale will be tough,” said Smith, who coached the Lindale girls earlier in his career. “They do a lot of things well. We have to take care of our business and not make many mistakes.”
A pair of four-year varsity players, guards Tiaka Lee and Quaneshia Johnson, led the Lady Lions (15-8) over the end of December. Johnson scored 19 points in a win over Wills Point to start the Chenevert event, with Lee scoring 19 points the next two games, a win over Pine Tree and again versus Liberty-Eylau.
Lee tops the team in scoring at 16.3 points per game. Johnson averages 8.9 points a game, with Jackson second in rebounds per game (5.5).
“They’ve been through some very competitive times for us, as far as going through district and being close to district championships,” Smith said of his three senior leaders, two of whom started as freshmen when JT tied for the final playoff berth in 11-5A, only to lose a district playoff. “Their senior year, they want to lead this team to a district championship. Being the district champion gives us a better shot to go deeper in the playoffs.”
Several underclassmen play key roles for the Lady Lions, including freshman Ashtyn Beal, and sophomores Tameal Jones and Amia Wickware. Beal leads the team in assists per game (2.5) and shares the lead in steals per game (2.9) with Jones. Wickware paces the team in rebounds per game (6.1). Wickware and Jones are tied for second in points per game at 9.0.
“I think it’s a strength, their excitement and enthusiasm has been phenomenal,” Smith said of the younger players contributing on varsity. “You don’t have them making freshman and sophomore mistakes. They’ve played a lot of basketball and played a lot of minutes and they bring a lot to our team. I think they’re ready for this district run.”
LIONS’ TALES: The JT-Lindale girls game gets going with the freshmen at 2 p.m., followed by the junior varsity at 3:15 p.m. and the varsity at approximately 4:30 p.m. In other 16-4A girls action today, Whitehouse (10-6) plays at Jacksonville and Corsicana (14-9) travels to Nacogdoches (14-8). … The John Tyler boys, fresh off a first-place showing in the Wagstaff Holiday Tournament, play at Dallas Madison today. The Lions (6-11) defeated North Forney, Bullard and Terrell en route to first place in the Apache bracket. The Lions open district Jan. 11 at Nacogdoches in a doubleheader with the Lady Lions.