There have been two distinct eras in Denison girls basketball history. The Lady Jackets are hoping that the success for the next group comes a lot sooner than the gap between the first and second stretches.
As this season begins with Denison traveling to play McKinney at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, there is a different look.
“It’s a team that I expect to get better as the year progress,” Yellow Jacket head coach Rod Been said. “Excited about another season. It stands to be a fun team to coach.”
Gone is the face of the program’s best successes — three straight playoff appearances, the first that ended an 11-year postseason drought, at least 21 wins each year plus a district title, a school record 31 wins and a trip to the region quarterfinals in 2017-18.
Now at Stephen F. Austin, Zya Nugent earned all-state honors for the the third time by averaging 24.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.7 steals and 3.1 assists, closed out her career with a program-record 2,835 points and was the District 10-5A Offensive Player of the Year.
Denison went 21-12 with a loss in the bi-district round against Frisco Centennial and will try to reach the postseason for a fourth consecutive year, something the program has not done.
In addition to replacing Nugent, Ikia Lacy was a first-team all-district selection after averaging 7.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals as a senior in her third year as a starter and Zachareia Sommers, a four-year starter, earned second-team all-district accolades after missing most of her senior season with a knee injury. She averaged 6.4 points, 3.1 assists and 2.7 rebounds.
Zaycia Guthrie also earned honorable mention all-district honors as a senior.
“We’re definitely having to re-tool a lot of things that we do. It’s not going to be as certain where the offense is coming from. It’s going to take some time to see what will be effective with our personnel,” Been said. “We have to see about what we can do to overcome our weaknesses, accentuate our strengths.”
Senior center Taryn Gaines, who is committed to Southeastern Oklahoma State, was a first-team all-district pick after averaging eight points, 7.2 rebounds. 1.8 steals and assists and 1.7 blocks and is a four-year starter.
“She’s going to anchor both ends of the floor. It’s going to be a different look because of the different players around her now,” Been said. “She’s going to have to make herself more prominent on the offensive end as a first option.”
Senior Maliyah Butler was honorable mention all-district last season and will step into a more prominent role at either guard spot this year.
Sophomore Jade Frye jumped right into the mix as a ninth-grader and was named second-team all-district by averaging 8.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.5 steals and two assists. But she will miss the first month of the season after recovering from knee surgery.
“When Jade gets back from her knee issue, we’ll have three players with significant varsity experience. Jade and Maliyah got a lot of starting minutes last year,” Been said. “We’ve got some questions to be answered.”
From the other six Lady Jackets on the roster will come the other two starters. Junior Shaniya Butler and freshman Camryn Nixon are in the early running for those spots.
Butler is moving up to the varsity for the first time.
“She’s put herself in the right position. She might be the most athletic player in the program,” Been said. “She’s a versatile player.”
Nixon has showed promise before entering high school.
“She certainly came on strong this summer and with some depth issues will be thrust into a major role,” Been said.
Rounding out the bench is senior Ta’Kiya Riddick, juniors Ashley Brown and Mykayla Guidry and freshman Jada Mathews.
In addition to competing in the Frisco ISD Dallas Mavericks Fall Classic, the Pottsboro Tournament and the Anna-Melissa-Van Alstyne Highway 5 Tournament, the Lady Jackets have non-district contests against Celina, Denton Braswell, Pottsboro, McKinney Boyd, Royse City, Era, Caddo Mills, Northwest, Bridgeport and Krum.
Denison will open 10-5A action at McKinney North on Jan. 10 and join defending district champ Wylie East, McKinney North and Lovejoy in trying to return to the playoffs.
“I really like our schedule with how our roster is set up. As late as we start our district, it’s purposeful,” Been said. “If we’re going to make a district run, we need to be well-rested.”