Finally, next season is here.
Last basketball season, though the most successful for coach Leta Andrews and the Granbury Lady Pirates in nearly a decade, had a memorable ending for the wrong reason.
The Lady Pirates finished 29-9 and advanced to the 4A Region I semifinals, defeating arch rival Stephenville in the quarterfinals. They had not gone that far since 2003.
And in the semifinals they led Clint Horizon 42-39 after three quarters. Surely, a third time against district rival Mansfield Summit lay in wait the next day.
The Lady Pirates were outscored 14-4 in the final quarter. Summit defeated Horizon the next day and went on to win state, while Granbury began planning for next season.
Which begins Tuesday night at home against … Summit.
“That’s also election night, so one way or another there could be a changing of the guard,” said Andrews with a grin.
“If would go get them that would be a big shot in the arm for us.”
Summit enters the game ranked fourth in 4A in the preseason by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches. Granbury is 15th.
Of course, with four returning starters, including one who’s already committed to play for the University of Texas, the Lady Pirates are already brimming with confidence.
Leading the list of returners is 6-4 all-state post Lilley Vander Zee. The UT commitment was also the 7-4A Offensive Player of the Year, averaging 21 points and eight rebounds – along with being one of the most prolific shot blockers around (2.7).
In the Lady Pirates’ playoff run, Vander Zee averaged 25 points and 13 rebounds.
“She wants to make this a memorable senior season,” Andrews said. “She wants to go to Austin twice next year.”
Vander Zee will be nicely complemented by the return of second-team all-district selections Morgan Northcutt (junior) and Ashley Bonugli (senior) at guard. Bailey Cole was an honorable mention all-district post player last season.
But just who the fifth starter will be this season depends largely on where Andrews plays Cole. With starting point guard Maddie Cox having graduated, it’s likely either Northcutt or Bonugli will move into that role, leaving a guard opening.
If the 5-7 Cole is moved to guard, 5-10 seniors Shelby Cline or Kali Jones could become the other starting post. If Cole is left at post, junior Lauren Clough could start at guard.
“Bailey’s been working as a post and a guard, but wherever I put her she’s going to be an attribute,” said Andrews.
“She’s fallen in love with basketball, and no matter where I play her, as long as it helps the team she’ll be happy.”
Then Andrews added with a chuckle, “But everything is subject to change. All five could be posts, and all five could be guards.
“My goal is to get to the Final Four, and whatever we have to play to get there, I’m sure me and everybody else will be fine with that.”
Andrews has not coached a team to the state tournament since she was at Corpus Christi Calallen, where her teams were frequent visitors and she won her only state title in 1990. But with the talent the team has back, confidence is brimming.
It also doesn’t hurt that Summit has moved to another region, though Andrews still expects to have to beat the Lady Jaguars to win it all.
“They are always going to be great,” she said. “But we can be also.”
However, Andrews said the team may not have just one star player.
“Lilley will be a star, but she probably won’t be the only one,” Andrews said. “This is a talented bunch of girls.
“And this is an extremely smart group of girls. That’s where a lot of their confidence comes from.”
As for the road to state, Andrews knows it begins close to home with 7-4A foe Aledo entering the season ranked 14th. The Ladycats are coming off a 29-5 season in which they went undefeated in district (they were realigned with Granbury in February) and advanced to the area round of the postseason.
“Aledo’s loaded,” Andrews said.
Around the region, Canyon, ranked sixth, appears to be the favorite. The team that has won 15 state championships in just over three decades under coach Joe Lombard took Summit to four overtimes in the regional semifinals last season.
“It’s never an easy road to state, or folks would get there every season,” Andrews said. “But our girls are so hungry, so passionate, so smart, we’ve got a real chance.”
Andrews has led 14 teams to state. Granbury’s last appearance was 1978 during her first tenure here.
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