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New feelings, same expectations for Lady Jackets

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Junior Jade Fry is the top returning scorer for the Lady Jackets, who open the season on Friday.

The architect of the most successful run in Lady Jacket history and some key players who were a large part of it are gone.

But the one thing Rod Been hoped for whenever he decided to end his time at Denison has come true — the Lady Jackets were an opponent to be respected, if not feared, when they showed up in the gym.

And now as the program goes forward and looking to keep that reputation, it has something of a youth movement poised to extend what has been accomplished for the past four years.

With a new coach and three returning starters, Denison opens the season by hosting Denton at 6 p.m. on Friday.

“Expectations are to make the postseason. They know that’s the expectation now,” DHS head coach Brock Giles said. “They believe they can do it. I’m excited for this group.”

Giles spent last season on the Lady Jackets bench, his lone year at Denison, before being elevated to run the program.

Been retired after eight years at DHS and compiling a 115-132 record in that span, including a current run of four straight playoff appearances, two region quarterfinal berths and a district title — during the 2017-18 season for the second in school history and first since 1990 and is also the only outright district crown — that is the best stretch in program history.

While Giles may be just 26, he has been a head coach before, starting his career with stops at Bland and Avery before assisting at Denison last season.

“What Coach Been did in the past has worked and the girls like it,” Giles said. “We do a lot of the similar drills. We’ve added some new stuff. There wasn’t a reason to change a whole lot.”

The Lady Jackets are coming off a 20-16 record and reached the region quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons — the program’s only two appearances in the third round. It was the Lady Jackets’ fourth consecutive playoff berth and fourth straight 20-win season, a pair of feats which had never been done at DHS.

The Lady Jackets lost three to graduation — center Taryn Gaines, point guard Maliyah Butler and Ta’kiya Riddick, who was a wing off the bench.

Gaines, now playing at Southeastern, was a four-year starter who was the 10-5A Defensive Player of the Year and averaged 15.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 1.6 steals and 1.5 assists.

Butler was a first-team all-district selection who averaged two points, 3.6 assists, 2.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals.

With those two key pieces gone, junior Jade Fry becomes the focus. She is a three-year starter and was first-team all-district after averaging 12 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals last season.

“She is our best scorer and we want our best scorers taking shots,” Giles said. “She’s going to have to step up and into that role.”

She and Gaines were the only Lady Jackets to average more than five points per game.

“If you look at our team, the make-up is not the same. It’ll be different offensively,” Giles said. “Our shooters will have to be confident. We would like to have a lot of possessions.”

But that doesn’t mean Denison lacks experience — it returns two other starters as sophomores Jada Mathews and Camryn Nixon received major minutes a year ago.

“They’ve got to be confident in their shooting abilities,” Giles said. “Both had key roles last year and will expand on that this season.”

Mathews was the third-leading scoring at 4.7 points while Nixon averaged 2.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists and they both were honorable mention all-district.

Guard Ashley Brown, who was honorable mention all-district, is the only senior and the only other junior besides Fry is Faith Shaw. Those two are expected to move into the starting lineup in the backcourt.

Sophomores make up most of the bench — Akadia Pace, Ari Washington, Amiyah Beamon and Lataria Hill. Junior Maddie Harrington is a transfer from Grayson Christian.

“It’s kinda cool seeing them take on the roles they’re good at,” Giles said. “We talk about: Be great at something. If you’re not a great scorer, be a great rebounder. If you’re not a great rebounder, be a great passer.”

Because teams cannot compete in tournaments as part of the UIL’s COVID-19 changes for this season, the Lady Jackets will play non-district contests against RW Goines Stem, Naaman Forest, Plano John Paul II, Fort Worth Dunbar, Bullard, Whitesboro, Muenster, McKinney Boyd, Flower Mound, Melissa and Aubrey before starting 10-5A play on Dec. 15.

Denison was placed in a district with Sherman, Wylie East, McKinney North, Lovejoy, Princeton, The Colony and Prosper Rock Hill for the next two seasons.

“I think we have a balanced schedule,” Giles said. “I think we will be challenged and ready for when district starts.”

Non-district

What: Denton at Denison

When: 6 p.m. Friday