Six years ago, after returning to coach at her alma mater, Lipan Lady Indians coach Amber Branson met with some seventh-graders.
She gave them a goal – get to Austin and win state.
Senior post Shauna Coleman remembers that talk well.
“This senior group is the first group that she’s coached all the way from junior high through high school, and it is a special bond,” said Coleman. “Everybody there that day knew we were the ones to get this going.”
Coleman and Kayla Wheeler have been on the varsity all four years in high school and are making their third appearance at state. Katelyn Martin and Tallen Halliday are in their third varsity season and at state for a second time.
“Coach Michou (Ray, assistant) started talking to them about Austin and they bought in,” said Branson. “Every player is special, but there is something about that first group that you brought all the way up from junior high.”
Coleman said that even if the team does win the first girls state championship in school history this weekend, there will be some bittersweet feelings as the seniors say goodbye to Branson.
“She’s like our mom,” said Coleman.
The Lady Indians lost in the semifinals to Neches in 2011. In 2012 they lost in the state finals to Neches. Last season they were shocked by Coolidge in the third round.
Last night Lipan (36-1) was playing Nazareth (34-2) in the state semifinals.
Nazareth was formerly coached by Tommy Cross, who joined the Lipan staff as boys assistant coach this season. He’s also the father of the team’s fifth senior, Kylee Cross, playing her first season in a Lady Indians uniform.
“Kylee’s experienced, first of all, and being a coach’s kid was an added blessing,” said Branson. “She knows the game.”
Before going to Nazareth, Tommy Cross coached at Tolar several seasons, leading the Lady Rattlers to numerous deep playoff runs. This is the first season in which he’s not coached his daughter, including youth leagues.
“I didn’t know how that was going to be at first, but it’s actually been great,” said coach Cross. “She’s playing for two great coaches, and it’s been awesome.”
And while she wasn’t around for the talk six years ago, Cross has fit in nicely with those who were there. She has been friends with several of her now teammates for years.
“Her dad coached me in Little Dribblers,” said Wheeler.
In fact, it was after going 0-3 in the Nazareth Tournament in 2010 that the Lady Indians got on their current run. They were 4-6 at that point, and Branson’s record since becoming Lipan coach stood at 38-37.
They have since gone 122-14 after getting another talk from Branson and Michou.
“It was a long bus ride home,” said Branson, adding with a smile. “But I would say the girls have bounced back well.”
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