Most of the time success is not linear. There are fits and starts to go with setbacks and progress. These Denison Lady Yellow Jackets didn’t follow that plan. Each of the previous two seasons they have made major leaps and with four starters returning after the best year in school history, the goals haven’t changed.
“This team will be better. How do you measure that? The question everybody wants to know is, will they go further?” Denison head coach Rod Been said. “I think it’s only fair to each year’s team to focus on their year. There’s a sort of building on last year’s accomplishments but from here on out it should be based on the potential of this group.”
The first step in living up to those big expectations comes as Denison opens the season by hosting McKinney at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday.
The Lady Jackets set the program record not only with a 31-5 record and undefeated district championship but also by reaching the region quarterfinals for the first time. It was a 10-win increase from 2016-17 and those 21 victories had been a 14-win increase over the prior season.
“This group has bought in to establish this culture and this program,” Been said. “They take pride in what will be their final offering for Lady Jacket basketball. That’s as high as they can set that bar.”
Graduation affected the depth in the backcourt as Olivia Marr, a first-team all-district selection, Taylor Dawes and Maddi Nixon are gone. But with the second-leading scorer in school history, who could be in the top spot by the end of the season, leading the charge once again, Denison should likes its chances.
Senior Zya Nugent, who will sign with Stephen F. Austin later this month, averaged 25.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.1 steals and 3.8 assists as the district’s Most Valuable Player and was an all-state selection for the second straight year.
Nugent has 2,019 career points that is second in Denison history to Shayla Moore, who had 2,777 points from 2002-2006 before playing at TCU.
“She’s been the cornerstone of the build, an invaluable part of the program,” Been said. “Unless she’s on the bench she’s going to score. That’s her gift. It’s been fun to watch her growth as a person, not just a player.”
Also back is senior guard Zachareia Sommers, a first-team all-district pick after averaging 7.7 points, 3.3 assists, three rebounds and two steals.
“It’s her show to run as the main point guard,” Been said. “I’m really excited to see what she can do.”
In the post, senior Ikia Lacy is coming off a first-team all-district year when she averaged 8.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals while junior Taryn Gaines was second-team all-district with five points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.
“Ikia and Taryn are really interchangeable,” Been said. “We have options with a lot of people at small forward.”
Senior forward Zaycia Guthrie moves into the lone starting role that is up for grabs. Junior Maliyah Butler is the other returning Lady Jacket with varsity experience. Junior forward Regan McClure moves up from the junior varsity and a pair of freshmen, Jade Fry and Brilee Payne, will jump right into the mix.
“We’ll start four seniors and a junior,” Been said. “We have some options. Jade is versatile. Maliyah can play either guard position. Hopefully we’ve got a spot for a good shooter in Brilee.”
In addition to non-district games against Celina, Lubbock Cooper, Canyon, Little Elm, McKinney Boyd, Sanger, Argyle Liberty Christian, Prosper and Bridgeport, the Lady Jackets will once again face Royse City at the American Airlines Center on Dec. 4 and compete in the Frisco, Durant and Lubbock Caprock Tournaments before 10-5A play starts in January.
The latest realignment put Denison into a district with Sherman, McKinney North, Wylie East, Lovejoy and Princeton, which moved up from Class 4A. Everyone but Sherman made the playoffs last season, meaning someone will be left out of the bracket this year and provide a strong challenge as Denison seeks to repeat as district champs.
“We’re in a different region and a different district. We’ve upgraded the schedule,” Been said. “Whatever happens in predistrict games will help us in our district run. If they get to 25-30 wins that’s a really good showing for this group.”