Whatever happens in the next week or so will be the capper for another defining point in the history of the Lady Yellow Jackets basketball program.
There is the initial playoff breakthrough back in the 1989-90 season. Then there was the three straight postseason appearances from 2004-06. But since then there had been a lack of success, until this latest three-year run.
Four years ago it may have seemed impossible. The losses far outnumbered the wins. But things turned around — and quickly. These Lady Jacket seniors may have started from the bottom of the district standings to pull off their first-time achievements but their time isn’t over just yet as Denison (21-11) faces Frisco Centennial (24-8) in a Class 5A Region II bi-district game at Anna at 7 p.m. on Monday.
“For me, that is part of their legacy, to see what the program looks like 10 years from now,” Denison head coach Rod Been said. “This can be the start. We have sixth-graders now watching them and excited about basketball.”
What has happened the past three seasons has been almost totally unprecedented. The Lady Jackets matched what had been the longest playoff streak but in the process they have earned the most postseason wins (3) and last year was the most successful in school history — an outright district title, a 31-5 record and a trip to the region quarterfinals for the first time.
“Looking at the banners and seeing the difference, putting things up there means a lot,” senior guard Zya Nugent said. “I didn’t trust the process my freshman year. I don’t like losing. Seven to 20 wins is a lot.”
Nugent enters the playoffs as the program’s all-time leading scorer. She set the mark, previously held by Shayla Moore of 2,777 points set during Denison’s last stretch of success from 2002-06, and currently sits at 2,817.
“Coming into high school, I didn’t look at beating a record. I looked at helping my team,” Nugent said. “Senior year, you do have individual goals and that was one.”
Even though it won at least 20 games for the third straight year despite a beefed-up schedule, Denison was unable to repeat as district champs. The Lady Jackets’ only 10-5A losses came against Wylie East and they had to settle for the runner-up spot. There is pressure in trying to replicate last year’s run to the third round as well as knowing it could be the last game for some very key pieces during this stretch of program history.
“It hits me pretty hard,” said senior guard Zachareia Sommers, who missed 17 games in the middle of the year with a broken kneecap. “I didn’t get to enjoy a big part of it. I don’t want it to end because I’m back and we got it going. I don’t want it to be our last game.”
The Lady Jackets are with out senior starters Ikia Lacy and Zaycia Guthrie as well as junior Maliyah Butler. UIL rules state that any player ejected from a game must sit out the next one.
“We’re going in short-handed and it’s going to be a gut check,” Been said.
Added Nugent: “Due to the situation Tuesday with the adversity, my feeling is: are we the team to overcome that? Are we strong-minded? Can we get through it? If we get through Monday then it will be back to normal.”
This is a rematch from the Frisco ISD Tournament in early November when Denison earned a 59-50 victory against the Lady Titans.
Nugent totaled 21 points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals, Lacy added 14 points and 12 rebounds, Taryn Gaines grabbed nine rebounds and Sommers and Jade Fry added nine points apiece for the Lady Yellow Jackets.
Lucy Rogers led Centennial with 17 points while Cassidy Melton added nine points and Madison Cockrell chipped in eight points.
The Lady Titans finished third in District 9-5A behind a pair of state-ranked teams in Frisco Lone Star and Frisco Liberty. Half of their losses are against those two schools. Centennial’s other four defeats are to Denison, Cedar Hill, Rockwall and Argyle.
Centennial enters the playoffs off a 59-51 victory against fifth-place Frisco Reedy to close out district play. Cockrell scored 15 points, Melton added eight points and Rogers, Madison Ott and Asia McIntosh each finished with seven points.
“They’re much improved from the last time we saw them,” Been said. “They’ve battled through a very tough district. They got four games against two of the best teams in the region.”