The banner that hangs in the gym detailing all of the accomplishments by the Lady Yellow Jackets has undergone quite a makeover during the past couple of years.
This season will be no exception as another alteration is needed due to Denison’s latest playoff appearance. In actually, however, putting 2020 in the rafters is an exception to the rule because it signifies something the program hasn’t done before — make four consecutive trips to the postseason.
“I’m proud of having accomplished that,” Denison head coach Rod Been said. “There’s every reason to believe this program stays on the run and eight years from now we’ll still be known as a playoff caliber team.”
Been’s tenure at Denison can be neatly cut in half by the period of time without the playoffs and the current streak, which continues as the Lady Jackets (18-15) host Frisco Memorial (25-11) in a Class 5A Region II bi-district contest at 6:30 p.m at Denison.
“We knew the work we’ve done at the lower levels. We knew what we had coming and could fill the shoes,” Been said.
In each of the previous three seasons, the Lady Jackets have had varying degrees of postseason success.
Denison will be trying to avoid last year’s fate, which was a loss against Frisco Centennial in the first round and a 21-11 record.
In 2018, the Lady Yellow Jackets had the best season in school history, going 31-5, which is a program record for wins, and reached the region quarterfinals for the first time before losing to Saginaw Boswell.
The first postseason berth in this run was Denison’s first trip to the playoffs in 11 seasons and after a win against Justin Northwest, the Lady Jackets lost by a point against Trimble Tech in the area round and finished 21-11. Denison had tripled its win total from the prior season, made the playoffs, earned a playoff victory and won at least 20 games — all last done in the 2005-06 campaign.
But Been understands what it’s like to try and maintain this success because his first four years at Denison were about providing stability — the program had four head coaches in the four years before Been’s arrival — and it took time to lay a foundation. After taking over for the 2012-13 season, the Lady Jackets never won more than seven games until starting the playoff streak and it was a continuation from a tough decade that began with the 2007-08 campaign.
“I remember making the statement when we first got to Denison, we want when the Denison bus pulls into the parking lot, the opponent knows they’re in for a game,” Been said. “I think that’s what we’ve established in eight years. I’m proud of that.”
Now the playoffs have become the floor for expectations.
“I feel like this year was more important because we had something to prove to the community and the other teams in the district,” senior point guard Maliyah Butler said.
Added center Taryn Gaines: “It’s our senior year so we wanted to show out.”
This year’s group got there with a third-place finish in District 10-5A, just a game behind Wylie East and McKinney North for first, and the ability to shine on the defensive end of the floor. Denison held 26 of 33 opponents to 45 points or fewer and only one scored at least 60. In 10 district games, only one time did the opponent make it to 45 points.
The Lady Jackets did this with just three returning varsity players — Gaines, Butler and sophomore Jade Fry. Added to the mix were a pair of freshmen to round out the starting five — Camryn Nixon and Jada Mathews — and the five newcomers on the bench.
There were rough patches to the season. Fry missed the first few weeks as she recovered from a knee injury. Butler was getting more playing time than ever before. The freshmen were having to adjust to the rigors of varsity expectations.
Plus there was having to replace 37 points per game from a year ago — 25 of that by the program’s all-time leading scorer Zya Nugent, who is now playing for Sam Houston State. Still, the Lady Jackets have found a way to win almost as many games.
“After Zya left, we knew we had to step up on defense,” Gaines said. “We had to rely on each other, play more as a team.”
Gaines, a four-year starter, surpassed a pair of career milestones during district play — 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds — and is averaging 15.6 points and 9.2 rebounds, which is up from eight points and 7.2 rebounds as a junior.
Fry has also made a jump from her freshman season, when she averaged 8.5 points. She’s increased that to 12 points per game.
Frisco Memorial finished as the runner-up in 9-5A’s tight race, going 15-3 in district play. Frisco Liberty took the district title at 16-2 while Frisco Lone Star (14-4) and Frisco Centennial (13-5) were right behind in the other two spots.
The program has only been in existence for two seasons since it became the newest Frisco ISD high school that opened in the fall of 2018. The Lady Warriors also made the playoffs last season and lost, 51-39, in the bi-district round to Wylie East as the fourth seed and finished 17-18.
Memorial returned its full roster from that group and is led once again by sophomore Jasmyn Lott, who is the team’s leading scorer and was named the district’s Newcomer of the Year last season.
“We’ll have a plan,” Been said. “We’ve had to play some pretty good guards in district.”