Did someone say four-peat?
They’re not afraid to speak of such at North Central Texas Academy.
And why should they be? For their girls basketball team, winning state championships has become an annual routine.
Just as sure as Bruce Willis will film another Die Hard movie, the Lady Pioneers will be among those favored to challenge for a state basketball championship.
Of course, they’ll say they’re taking nothing for granted out on the Hill, mind you (they will always be Happy Hill to me). But seriously, with the returning talent coach Emily Britt has on her squad, it’s understandable if they are already be making room in the trophy case for next season.
“That is something that I think we have a shot at doing, but I’m going to enjoy this one for now,” said a humble Britt.
Granted, this season’s TAPPS Class A State Tournament wasn’t the dominant overall performance of the previous two seasons, but Britt’s Lady Pioneers (26-3) had arguably the most memorable victory in school history. They outscored Selma River City Believers 18-3 in the fourth quarter to win 35-28 in the championship game.
And while I have covered larger schools on bigger stages in my career, excitement is excitement. And dadgum it, this was one exciting finish, bringing back memories of Lipan’s amazing comeback from 15 down against Newcastle in the fourth quarter to reach state in 2011.
A key part of the Lady Pioneers’ comeback, center Cynthia Rivas, is only a sophomore. She is one of seven Lady Pioneers on the roster who are underclassmen.
Rivas’ 3-pointer opened up a five-point lead late for the Lady Pioneers, and it signaled the end for River City. Like the challenger in a boxing ring who needed just one big punch to finish off the champion, the Lady Soldiers could never deliver that punch, and instead it was the champs who dug deep – showing the heart only three-time title holders can display.
“When Cynthia hit that big shot, as soon as that happened, we said, ‘It’s ours,’” said senior Sara Etherington.
“We’ve still got a tremendous team here. You’ve got Cynthia, Jenni (Chen), and a lot of talent. There’s a definite possibility for a four-peat.
“I know it gets harder to win it each time, but this team doesn’t know how to lose.”
TAKING ON ALL CHALLENGERS
Cliche or not, this team truly does not know what it’s like to lose to another in their own classification. The Lady Pioneers are 80-10 over the past three seasons – and every one of those losses was to a team in a higher classification.
And more often than not they’ve defeated teams from higher classifications.
That experience ultimately made the difference in the championship game, said senior Shelby Lyle.
“We never thought we weren’t going to win,” she said.
Britt said the best part of coaching the Lady Pioneers, her first gig as a head coach, was the family atmosphere, which is something the folks at Happy Hill, er, NCTA, have focused on for the more than three decades they’ve been in existence. While they have long been great at sports, they are even better at making kids feel able to do anything they set their minds to.
“It’s so sweet, this championship, and the best thing is the girls I got to coach,” said Britt. “They’re just amazing kids. I know a lot of coaches say that, but they made my first season one that I will never, ever forget no matter how many championships we win.”
And who knows how many that could be? Not only are they loaded with talent, but Britt’s pedigree is impressive, including being the most valuable player in a district that included her teammate with the Granbury Lady Pirates, Jia Perkins.
Britt grinned when reminded that in only her first season she has matched the legendary Leta Andrews for state championships. She still has a ways to go to catch Andrews in state tournament appearances (14) and career victories (1,397), however.
“I take what she taught me in high school and use it in my personal life as well as professional life,” said Britt.
“She was a big influence on me, and I hope I can be just as much an inspiration to my girls as they play for me and then go through life.”
And, just like her former coach, Britt knows that while this season just ended, it’s already time to start planning for next season.
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