All along the way, the Lady Yellow Jackets were told what was coming.
They were told that they were better than the seven wins they had earned two years ago. And things were going to be different. And they would starting winning. And make the playoffs — something Denison hadn't done nearly the entire length of their lives.
At first, the Lady Jackets listened but had trouble believing. The words came from head coach Rod Been, and what else was he going to say to motivate them? Things were different. They started winning. They made the playoffs. And they won there too.
“They heard it. They didn't believe it until it manifested itself and then they had a twinkle in their eye like 'he was right,'” Been said.
With the entire roster back, Denison doesn't have to dream or believe about what they can accomplish. They know.
“I had told them since the seventh grade that last year was the year we were going to break through,” Been said. “We had a junior class where we had them for five years and they matured. The pressure was on me and I felt it. They had to experience it or then how much could they trust what I was saying?”
But after going through such a transformation, the Lady Jackets can't rest on what they did. Denison tripled its win total, finished 21-11, was third in district and for the first time since the 2005-06 season it had made the playoffs, earned a postseason win and won at least 20 games all in one swoop. The Lady Jackets lost in the area round against Trimble Tech, 44-43, and were one shot from getting to the third round for the first time in program history.
So the expectations are there as Denison opens the season by hosting Greenville at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday. And the Lady Jackets welcome them.
“The pressure's more on them. The pressure's on 'us,'” Been said. “If they get off track a little bit I just mention Trimble Tech because they don't want to finish like that again.”
There is a large group of seniors ready to continue their success and they are the core that Been started building around four years ago.
“I've got four good options with the ball and three off the ball,” Been said. “And a nice rotation in paint.”
Olivia Marr, Taylor Dawes, Maddi Nixon and Suzie Smith each provide a role in the backcourt while Hannah Hittson and J'Nique Wilson are interchangeable pieces around the basket.
Marr was a first-team all-district selection after averaging 6.1 points and taking 45 charges from the point guard spot while Hittson, Nixon and Dawes were honorable mention all-district.
Junior Zya Nugent was named the 5-5A Offensive Player of the Year and Class 5A all-state by the Texas Girls Coaches Association as a sophomore after averaging 22 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.2 steals.
Also in the backcourt is junior Zachareia Sommers, who contributed 3.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, two assists and two steals per game and was named second-team all-district.
“If things go like I plan the minutes from the top five will go down and the ones from the middle will go up,” Been said. “I think Zya, ReeRee and Olivia were burned out near the end. They won't like it and understand why but it will help.”
The third junior, forward Ikea Lacy, moved in from Lindale and was an honorable mention all-district choice.
Sophomore center Taryn Gaines made an immediate impact as a freshman, averaging 4.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and a block per game, was the district's Newcomer of the Year and has continued to improve.
“Getting a more balanced attack, point production should go up in Marr, Lacy, Sommers,” Been said. “For two years everybody in the gym knew who was going to score. And if teams have to worry about other people, the spacing will open things up even more for Zya.”
In addition to non-district games against Celina, Whitesboro, Arlington, Whitewright, Pottsboro, North Lamar and Royse City in a match-up once again at the American Airlines Center on December 4th, the Lady Jackets will compete in the Polk Key City, Pottsboro and Ardmore Tournaments. District 5-5A action starts on December 8th with two games before the Christmas break and then resumes right after the new year. Denton Ryan is the defending district champ while Rider and Denton were the other playoff teams. Sherman, Wichita Falls and Denton Braswell round out the group again.