Tuesday , 25 October 2016

Heartbreak in Austin: North Girls Lose Lead, State Championship Game

AUSTIN — The Lady Bulldogs were never considered an underdog. Their story was closer to Snow White’s than Cinderella’s. They weren’t a ragtag group of kids that came together and found glory in sports. No, the McKinney North girls basketball team was never a cliché. Unfortunately the end of their season didn’t match the movie moments either.

North’s trip to Austin fell flat as they lost to the Canyon High Eagles 49-42 in the Class 4A UIL State Championship Saturday afternoon.

The Lady Bulldogs’ season (29-5) was going to come to an end either way Saturday afternoon at the Frank Erwin Center, but unfortunately it didn’t go the way they wanted to. As the city’s first basketball team to make it to state since 1998, North fought hard, but Canyon (31-5) stepped up its game in the final quarter and took the win. With four minutes left in the 3rd quarter North led by nine points, but Canyon went on a run for the win. North hit the shots they needed to and refused to give up, narrowing it to three points with 16 seconds left.

“Toward the end of the game we weren’t able to play our style because of all the fouls and it turned into a free throw contest,” North head coach Michael Oldham said. “It was frustrating, but I was very proud of my team for staying in it and getting the shots we needed towards the end.”

Canyon’s Madison Parker walked away as the MVP of the tournament and for good reason. The senior, who was with Canyon when it won the championship her freshman year, had 18 points, was six for 10 on field goals and six for eight on free throws. Those free throws were her biggest contribution as Canyon went on an 11 straight run from the line, the last four all made by Parker.

“Basketball is a game of runs. We told our kids Canyon was going to make a run, we just weren’t able to answer back when we needed to,” Oldham said. “I know Canyon has got mystique, but that didn’t enter our girls’ mind. We were out there to win, to drive on the floor for loose balls. It just didn’t bounce our way.”

In a season that’s seen so much success, it’s hard for spectators to be anything but proud of North’s girls. There’s no shame in silver, but that doesn’t make the loss of gold any easier, especially for seniors Amy Kleynhans and Mikaehla Connor. Kleynhans kick-started the tone of the game for North when she sunk a three-pointer 25 seconds in. Connor led the team with 13 points and was the driving force for North’s final run when she scored six points in the last minute of the game.

“Canyon got on a run and we just couldn’t slow them down. They made more free throws than we even attempted,” Connor said. “But this team has become my family, I’m going to remember this forever. We’ve left a milestone at McKinney North and done something no one else ever has.”

Although Connor and the rest of the team’s seniors have played their final minutes as Lady Bulldogs, they leave the team in hopeful hands. The nine-point lead North enjoyed in the third quarter was led by junior Chanterria Jackson, who scored 10 on the day, but  six of those were within two minutes and defined the intensity North will potentially  play with next season, too. Jackson and Oldham will be back next year and have big expectations following this remarkable season.

“Personally I’m taking away this experience to use it as motivation,” Jackson said. “I’ll be thinking about this as I go into practice, so we can make it back here next year.”

Although Oldham is certainly looking forward to getting back to Austin next March, he’ll be looking back on this team with fond memories for years to come. Oldham, who joined the North staff in 2011, has been working with some of these players since they were sophomores and has huge expectations for them on the court and in their futures.

“These kids have given me everything that I’ve asked. They’ve worked on our time, their time, even on time that probably doesn’t exist,” Oldham said. “I’m trying to build a culture of basketball here and I couldn’t be more proud to represent the community and McKinney North.”

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