Written by Matt Wixon
Jill McDill takes 400-win career, state pedigree in Rockwall to undefeated Sunnyvale
SUNNYVALE — Bria Johnson was trying to buy SweeTarts candy at CVS a few weeks ago when a young Sunnyvale fan spotted the junior point guard.
“Are you Bria Johnson?” he yelled with excitement.
It’s not just young fans who are excited about Sunnyvale’s girls basketball team, which is 24-0 and No. 1 in the Class 2A state rankings. After one of the team’s recent wins, an elderly fan walked up to senior shooting guard Sheridan Lewis to talk about the winning streak.
“You know,” he said. “This is a big deal.”
It’s a very big deal for Sunnyvale, a town of a little more than 5,000 that is tucked between Mesquite and Lake Ray Hubbard. For more than 50 years, the Sunnyvale ISD educated students through eighth grade and sent them to high schools in Mesquite. It wasn’t until 2009 that Sunnyvale High School opened.
Less than five years later, the school’s girls basketball team is the talk of 2A. Sunnyvale has blown out most of its opponents, and last month’s championship path at the Kaufman Holiday Tournament included wins over 4A Frisco Centennial and 5A Richardson Pearce.
The quick rise is the result of talented players and hard work. It doesn’t hurt, either, to have one of the state’s best coaches. Jill McDill, who led Rockwall to the 5A championship in 2007, took over at Sunnyvale this year.
“She’s one of a kind,” Lewis said.
McDill is certainly one of the few coaches who would leave a successful program for a smaller one. From 2001 to 2013, McDill led Rockwall to three state finals, including a perfect 40-0 finish in 2007. More than 300 of the wins in her career record of 402-97 came while building and then maintaining the Yellow Jackets’ powerhouse.
How do you leave that?
“I love Rockwall. I loved the kids I coached there. I loved that whole situation,” said McDill, a North Mesquite and Baylor graduate.
The only downside of Rockwall was that it was a 25-minute drive from Sunnyvale, where McDill has lived for six years with her husband, Paul McDill, a pastor. The oldest of their four children, Caleb, is a freshman at Sunnyvale, and his mom wanted to be able to see him play sports and be there for other activities.
McDill’s new drive to school, where she is also the assistant athletic director and coaches cross country, is less than two miles.
“It was a family decision,” she said. “It’s really been a blessing the way it’s all worked out.”
It’s definitely working out. And the Sunnyvale players, who have won their first six District 12-2A games by an average of 31 points, are enjoying the success. Grace Goodhart, a junior shooting guard who leads the team in scoring with 16.3 points per game, has even been asked to sign autographs after a game.
But the players won’t let the newfound celebrity derail their plans. They want a district title, and then a regional title, and then the school’s first spot in the state tournament.
Despite the 24-0 start, Goodhart said, the players know they’ve got to practice and play like they’re 0-24.
“We’ve got everything to prove,” she said.
And a coach who can show them how to do it.