The high school career of Olivia Marr has bisected quite nicely. After jumping right to the varsity as a freshman, those first two years were full of losing as the Denison Lady Yellow Jackets tried to get back on track. It was a long rebuilding process.
And then the last two seasons have seen the senior guard in the middle of one of the best stretches in program history. If the Lady Jackets (30-4) find a way to get past Grapevine (29-7) in a Class 5A Region I area round game at 7 p.m. tonight at Lovejoy, it will officially be uncharted territory.
“With this senior group, especially with Olivia, it took two years of getting our brains beat in,” Denison head coach Rod Been said. “She’s made it through it and been resilient.”
The winner will face either Saginaw Boswell or Birdville in the region quarterfinals next week. The Lady Jackets, who are in the second round for the second straight season and fourth time in school history, have never advanced to the third round of the playoffs.
“We’ve been the first to do a lot of things, so to be able to add another thing would be crazy,” Marr said. “I was getting my butt kicked by those 18-year-olds. Now we’re actually winning playoff games.”
A year ago, upstart Denison tripled its win total and got 21 victories. It was one basket against Trimble Tech from No. 22 that would have sent them to the region quarterfinals for the first time. The feeling stuck for quite sometime and helped fuel the record-setting pace for this year’s roster, which returned entirely intact.
“I feel like we use that. We don’t want that to happen again,” Marr said. “We lost by one point! We were so broken over that loss. I’ve watched that game on Hudl like 40 times.”
One of the few new faces last season was Ikia Lacy, who transferred to Denison and showed flashes of a low-post presence. She has emerged as the team’s second-leading scorer to junior classmate Zya Nugent and the leading rebounder. Teaming with sophomore Taryn Gaines in the post, the Lady Jackets have had few weak spots in getting to 30 victories for the first time.
“Last year, I wasn’t comfortable. I thought I’d mess up so I didn’t do anything. I wasn’t a presence,” Lacy said. “I got more comfortable. I got my stride.”
Denison started the postseason with an uneven performance in a 51-41 victory over Saginaw. The Lady Jackets led by double-digits for much of the contest, including a 17-point advantage with six minutes remaining, only for Saginaw to battle back and make it a six-point margin with a minute remaining.
“Sometimes teams just develop a character,” Been said. “Like it or not, this team has gotten into fourth quarters with a comfortable lead and gotten things interesting.”
Nugent had 19 points, 11 rebounds, six steals and four assists, Zachareia Sommers added 16 points, Lacy grabbed 11 rebounds and Marr finished with eight points.
Grapevine, which is in the postseason for the fourth straight year and made the region quarterfinals two years ago, opened the playoffs with a close game of its own, a 43-35 victory against O.D. Wyatt. The Lady Mustangs earned the win on the strength of outscoring Wyatt 9-1 in the second quarter — Grapevine lost the other three frames by a point, including when Wyatt trailed by just three going to the final eight minutes.
Grapevine lost its final two District 8-3A games entering the playoffs but still managed to grab the second seed. There are a couple of common opponents. The Lady Mustangs also played Denton, which Denison beat twice in district play, and Grapevine came away with a 46-42 win back in late November.
Both also had wins against Royse City during non-district action. Denison had a 61-52 victory at the American Airlines Center while Grapevine won, 51-49, at Royse City.
“I’m appreciative of the confidence those coaches have but I have my concerns,” Been said. “There is some strength to our region. For the two of us, I think we’re definitely among the tops in the region. Definitely one of the better match-ups early on.”
There are just two seniors after graduation saw eight players exit a 19-11 squad but junior Rylee Hanna was named second-team all-district last season and sophomore Dasha MacMillan was honorable mention all-district when Grapevine made the area round.
“She’s getting a lot of attention in the DFW area. We’re going to have to pay attention to her,” Been said. “It’s going to be a more controlled tempo than we saw against Saginaw.”