By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
Basketball season is almost underway around McKinney, as the girls teams tipoff the season Tuesday night around town. TSB gives you exclusive previews for each of the three MISD schools, including a link to each of the three full schedules. Can Boyd and North make it back to the playoffs this season, and can MHS find early success in a very difficult District 10-5A? It is time for a litle basketball folks.
The Lady Bulldogs enter the 2012-13 campaign with high expectations from not only inside the locker room, but from the media and outside coaches as well. McKinney North is ranked 16th in the 4A TABC/Tex Preps Basketball Magazine preseason top-25, a high honor for a squad that finished in fourth place a season ago in a very difficult District 10-4A.
North finished last season with an overall record of 21-13 and posted a 9-5 district mark, which earned the Lady Bulldogs the fourth seed out of 10-4A behind Rockwall, Highland Park, and Wylie. They carried their late season momentum into the regional quarterfinal round, where they met up with Highland Park for a third time in the season. Highland Park won on a buzzer beater 40-39 to top the Lady Bulldogs, but with four returning starters from last year and six total lettermen, the experience of a deep playoff run should play to their advantage when district play heats up in January and February.
When asked to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of his roster, North head coach Michael Oldham said that he believes his group of girls are truly dedicated to the game of basketball all year long.
“Most people look at our roster and say we probably have a little too much youth, because I will be starting a senior, two juniors, a sophomore and a freshman,” said Oldham. “But those two juniors and the sophomore started and played in every game last year on varsity, and all five girls played highly competitive AAU ball this summer and probably played in 60-80 games this offseason. When you top that off with 20-25 games in the fall, you can see that they are very dedicated to basketball.”
The Lady Bulldogs are led by senior Alexis Mason, who will sign with Abilene Christian University next Wednesday to play Division I basketball. Last year, Mason averaged 15.0 points, four rebounds, and four assists per game and was the biggest weapon on the floor on both sides of the ball for North down the stretch. Oldham will also have junior Mikaehla Connor returning to the floor, who finished averaging 10 points, four rebounds, and three assists per game.
North’s big rebounding weapon returns for her sophomore season, as Chanterria Jackson looks to surpass her 238 rebound season from a year ago. When asked to evaluate his team, Oldham said he expects players like Jackson to be real important in creating a defensive-first mentality for the Lady Bulldogs.
“I know we are going to be real strong defensively,” said Oldham. “That is something we preach and work on a constant basis. Our goal is to just beat you up and then run and get transition baskets. We work a ton on transition and work a lot on full court man-to-man defense, so our goal is to speed you up because we think we can play faster than you can. That’s pretty much our philosophy.”
Like many schools this season, North will have to adjust to a whole new district with several new schools. They will have two familiar opponents in Wylie and Wylie East, who both come along from 10-4A a season ago. The Lady Bulldogs swept Wylie East in their two meetings last year, but were swept by Wylie in the season series. But like many teams, Oldham and his girls are excited for the challenges that come with a brand new district.
“You always look forward to playing new teams,” said Oldham. “We played Sherman last year in the finals of their tournament last year, and I am looking for them to be good this year with a new coaching staff. I always expect Wylie to be tough and physical, and I also expect Lovejoy to be better than what people expect them to be this year. I would say those are the top four teams, including us as far as the new district goes.”
Oldham is entering his tenth year as the coach at North and has won one district championship while at the school. But according to the head coach, his girls have a prime opportunity to give the school another district title.
“We expect to win every game,” said Oldham. “We probably have the best opportunity we have ever had at North to win a district championship. This will be my 10th year as the varsity head coach and I’ve only won one district championship, so they just don’t fall on trees. Winning one won’t be easy but that is our goal. We are preseason ranked 16th in the TABC for 4A, and our goal is to just climb up that poll into we make it to the top.
“Our girls’ goal is to go to state and we all feel like we can do that. If you can make it to a regional, anything can happen.”
The Lady Bulldogs open the season Tuesday night at home versus Frisco High School. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.
Click here for the full North schedule.
The Lady Broncos will have a brand new look both on the court and on the bench this season. Back in the spring, Boyd hired former University of Arkansas player Rochelle Vaughn as the new varsity girls basketball coach after the team finished fourth in District 10-5A and were eliminated in the bi-district round by Skyline 60-30.
Boyd finished the 2011-12 season 15-20 overall and 7-7 in district play. In a tiebreaker game versus Garland Lakeview Centennial, the Lady Broncos won 51-47 to advance to the playoffs and claim the fourth seed out of 10-5A. But with a new head coach and entering a very difficult and revamped 10-5A, Vaughn knew that the offseason would be important for her team to begin establishing their new defensive-first mentality.
“The offseason went well for us,” said Vaughn. “We put in some new philosophies and we are kind of a working progress. We are establishing new defensive philosophies in how we pressure people, and we are going to press the entire time. That’s something you have to work on every day in practice. The biggest thing is just working hard the entire play.”
Vaughn stated that her most difficult task in the offseason has been matching her player’s level of playing hard to her personal level of playing hard.
“Getting them to play hard and be mentally strong I think is the biggest challenge for any coach,” she said. “Not saying they weren’t used to it, but my level of playing hard and your level of playing hard is not matching. They even said ‘Coach Vaughn, what you think and what we think is totally different.’ I understand that but they have to get where I am thinking.”
The Lady Broncos will definitely be one of the smaller teams in the district, with sophomore Jordan Brightwell and senior Micaela Gonzalez leading the squad at five feet 11 inches tall. With schools like Plano, Plano West, and Allen having multiple players above 6 feet tall, Vaughn understands that her team will have to win games in district play by being very athletic and strong defensively.
“We are pretty small but we have some athletic players,” said Vaughn. “We are what we call an athletic team because we can’t just stand on the perimeter and shoot threes. We are going to have to beat people with our defense and hopefully we can pressure people into making mistakes. We are not big like Plano or Allen is.”
The team to beat in 10-5A will be Plano West, who enters the season ranked eighth in the state in the 5A TABC/Tex Preps Basketball Magazine preseason top-25. And while other schools like Allen and Plano will be ranked pretty high in area polls, Vaughn and her senior players expect and desire to win district this season.
“Obviously you want to win district. The seniors goal is to win district, and I told them if they give me their best then I will give them my best and we will see what happens.”
The Lady Broncos open their season Tuesday night at Denton Ryan. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m.
Click here for the full Boyd schedule.
After missing the playoffs by a single game a season ago, the Lionettes face the biggest test of all three MISD schools this season as they make the jump from 4A to 5A basketball. MHS finished the 2011-12 season with a 23-11 overall record and was 8-6 in District 10-4A, and finished one game behind North for the fourth seed in the playoffs.
Head coach Debbie Harris will return six players from last year’s squad, including Mariah Mitchell and Jazsmin Nelson. Mitchell led the team in scoring last season with 13.8 PPG, while Nelson was third in the team in points and rebounding with 174 points and 103 rebounds.
But despite the jump from 4A to 5A, Harris and her team are dealing with some considerable depth issues. Currently the Lionettes have just nine varsity players on the roster, an issue that she expects her team to battle through all season long.
“We are struggling from a numbers standpoint at the varsity level, but I think we have a really good core group returning,” said Harris. “We have one senior coming back, but we have some kids who are working really, really hard. I think we could surprise some people but we are going to have some issues with depth.”
While Mitchell and Nelson are two of the primary weapons for McKinney, Harris loves the fact that her team is unselfish and doesn’t have to go through one player in order to be successful.
“I think that’s what makes us such a strong team. We have a couple of players who are pretty athletic, but they all share the wealth and each carry their own weight. That is good for us because we don’t have one person we have to rely on to score twenty points.”
The Lionettes won’t truly feel their depth issues until district play rolls around, according to Harris. While the district schedule will be packed with quality and playoff-caliber opponents every Tuesday and Friday night, the six-team district means finding more quality opponents to fill the holes in your schedule.
“All of the people in our district were already on our schedule, but the test for us will be the depth factor that they have so many kids to choose from,” said Harris. “They have 12 or 15 kids that are as good as our top six, so that is going to be an issue.
“The other issue is that it is going to be a six-team district so we don’t start until January, so to find games we have to go to the other six-team district and play Flower Mound Marcus and Flower Mound. That is the issue is that our whole season is slammed with games like that.”
Harris and her players are excited about the opportunity that a new district and a jump to 5A bring to the program. While they may not have the physical size of a Plano West or an Allen, Harris believes her girls are going to be an aggressive squad that makes you have to run up and down the court for a full game.
“We are very scrappy and we are going to pressure the basketball a lot. We are going to rely on our defense a lot to score. I don’t think we are big enough or agile enough to just setup in the half court, especially against people in our district. So we are going to try and force people into playing faster than they want to play. The flip side of that is having six kids rotating most of those minutes is going to be a challenge and that is just part of it. We are going to have to be in good shape.”
MHS opens its season on Tuesday night at home versus Frisco Liberty. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Click here for the full MHS schedule.