By TONY EIERDAM
Playing for their third head coach in three years, the Mineral Wells Lady Rams basketball team went through a non-district season learning their new coach and finished District 6-3A play with a 6-4 record, a third-place finish and a playoff appearance.
The Lady Rams’ season ended in Olney with a bi-district playoff loss to Wichita Falls Hirschi.
The “new” coach, Leslie Holman, had coached most of the 2013-14 Lady Rams in junior high school, so unlike most new head coaches she was familiar with her personnel.
Holman, however, had to deal with many injuries throughout the year, but felt the team progressed each week.
“I feel the team made a significant amount of progress over the course of the season,” she said. “There are several teams I would like to have had a second chance to play. We had a slow start due to some injuries that carried over from volleyball season.
“(Senior post) Ashlynn (Robinson) finally got released at the beginning of basketball season but hadn’t done anything for six weeks prior, and (junior guard) Riley (Bullock) had a back injury that carried through December.
“It took both of them a while to get back in shape and be major contributors. Of course, losing (senior forward) Megan Powell after two weeks with the knee injury didn’t help either. I feel most of the injuries kept us from winning some games that we should have, but that is just part of it.”
Only in the last four games of the season did the Lady Rams have every player suited up.
“The 15-point loss to Hirschi (in the playoffs) compared to the 38-point loss to them in December shows the improvement that we made,” Holman pointed out. “The Hirschi coach told the (Wichita Falls Times Record News) that she felt that the bi-district game was the best she had seen her team play all year.
“So I feel that we gave them a good game if that was their best performance.”
The Lady Rams will lose just two players to graduation, Robinson and guard Courtney Peña. Both were significant contributers to the program.
“Courtney has a lot of quickness and played at the top of the press and on the opponent’s best guard,” Holman said. “Her quick hands could create a lot of turnovers, and she was very good at defending one-on-one.
“Ashlynn,” Holman continued, “always had to defend the largest post player despite her size.
“At 5-9 she was usually a lot smaller than most of the players she had to defend. Her presence in the lane and on the boards will be missed.”
Holman said the highlight of the year was qualifying for the playoffs for the second straight year, quite a feat when considering the Lady Rams began the season with only one returning starter.
“That was one of our goals and we really wanted to go more than one round,” Holman said. “But Hirschi is a good basketball team that had a big height advantage over us.
“Even though our overall record wasn’t as good as we had hoped, the losses we had were to great basketball teams with well-established programs.
“Most of the teams that we lost to have gone two or three rounds in the playoffs, and several of them played in the regional tournament this weekend.”
Holman will have a seasoned team next year, and will return her leading scorer and leader in assists and steals, Natalie Ragland, who will just be a junior next year.
Holman also returns guards Bullock, Pam Hopkins and Scarlett Eaton, who will be seniors next year, and guard Katie Rivera, who will be a junior.
Returning next year at forward will be Tabby Santibanez and Carson Couger, who will be seniors, and juniors to be Madie Pappas, Mason Malone, Ashley Valdez and Kera Harrison.
Holman said offseason work will focus on aggressive play on both ends of the floor.
“We will especially be working on going aggressively to the basket,” Holman said. “The guards and forwards need to learn to make a move to the basket and go in without hesitation.
“I feel we were too hesitant in taking the ball at the opponent.
“When someone got close to us we would stop and basically ‘save’ the other team from picking up fouls. I want them to learn to go to the basket with confidence and aggressiveness and make the basket and pick up the foul, too.
“I will be working with my posts players and teaching them how to work with their back to the basket. They need to learn as well how to make that hard power move to the basket regardless of who is in their way. We will also be doing lots of shooting since our shooting percentage is not near where it needs to be and I would like to be able to play an aggressive man to man defense.”
Holman is excited to begin next season with a veteran team.
“I will have three starters, (Natalie, Riley and Tabby) back next year plus seven other varsity players and some quality junior varsity players that I am already looking at to step up and fill some big shoes next year,” she said. “I feel that I have a great core nucleus of players back, and I want them all ready to play confident, aggressive, in-your-face basketball.
“It won’t happen overnight but it will be a day by day journey.”
Taking the job this past summer, Holman said she was excited to know she would be reuniting and working with past players.
“I started coaching in Mineral Wells ISD in 2009 at the junior high and so I had the pleasure of coaching the current 9-11 graders in seventh-grade basketball,” she said. “When I came here, I really never dreamed I would end up as the head girl’s basketball coach.
“However, this year was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Not only are these kids a great group of hard-working young ladies both on the court and in the classroom, but they are also an extremely fun bunch to be around and I am very proud of all that they have accomplished.
“Hopefully, I will be able to not only enhance their basketball skills, but also teach them how to be hard-working, productive and contributing members of their community and society.
“I want them to realize that you what you get out of something usually depends on how much you put into it.
“Everyone wants to be on varsity but not everyone wants to dedicate the time and effort it takes to make it.
“I am extremely excited to see what the future holds for the Lady Rams!”
Not only will Holman have a wealth of returning varsity members next year, but she can also pull up players from the district champion freshman and junior varsity teams.
The future is indeed bright for Lady Rams basketball.