Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: MacArthur, FM Marcus must buck history to repeat as 5A champs
As the defending Class 5A champion and top-ranked team in the state, it was pretty clear what the Irving MacArthur girls basketball team was walking into this year. But before the season started, the coaches gave the players a vivid reminder of their place in the crosshairs.
The coaches made little targets and put a player’s name on each one.
“They knew that every time they would step on the floor, they were going to be targets,” MacArthur coach Suzie Oelschlegel said. “They knew what to expect.”
Entering its playoff opener Tuesday night, MacArthur has been just as expected. MacArthur (31-2) has been dominant, and with a quiver full of talented arrows, it’s on target to win another state title.
Next week, the Flower Mound Marcus boys will begin their 5A title defense. Just like MacArthur, Marcus (31-2) has been the team to beat all season but has stayed atop the state rankings.
The teams are near the top of the national rankings and have just about everyone back from last season. Each team also has one of the best high school players you’ll ever see: McDonald’s All-Americans Alexis Jones of MacArthur and Marcus Smart of Marcus.
So they’re huge favorites, obviously. And as well as they have dealt with the targets on their chests, we could be a month away from the third Dallas-area sweep of the 5A basketball titles in four years.
But repeating, especially in 5A, has become more difficult in the last decade as the state’s competitive depth has improved. Marcus is trying to become the first 5A boys team to repeat since Sugar Land Willowridge in 2000 and ’01. MacArthur would be the first 5A girls team to win back-to-back titles since Mansfield won four straight from 1999 to 2002.
Since then, terrific teams such as the Duncanville girls (2003 champ, ’04 finalist) and the DeSoto boys (2009 champ, lost in third round in ’10) came up short in repeat bids. The Duncanville boys finished 39-0 in 2007 and returned most of their top players the next season, but they were bounced in the regional semifinals by eventual champion North Crowley.
Nothing is a given in the playoffs — not even close. There are too many good teams and a whopping seven playoff rounds. The pressure of being the team everyone expects to win, and the team many people want to lose, can take its toll.
That all being said, MacArthur and Marcus are built for a long drive. Both teams are headlined by stars, but their supporting casts could make the playoffs without them. One player’s off night doesn’t put a win in jeopardy, which is one reason the teams have been remarkably consistent.
They just refuse to lose. Marcus coach Danny Henderson has mentioned that quality of his team many times over the last two seasons. Marcus’ defense-fueled will is tough to crack, which showed when it recovered from Garland Lakeview’s haymaker rally in last year’s title game.
There’s also the unselfishness required for an elite team, which Oelschlegel raved about last week. Her players don’t care who gets the basket, she said, and they don’t care who leads in rebounds or assists.
“They just care if we win,” she said.
That’s the ultimate quality of a champion.