Written by SportsDayDFW.com
After breakout season, McKinney North is looking for more
McKINNEY - The team McKinney North had defeated by 11 points two weeks earlier knocked it out of the playoffs. The team was Frisco Wakeland, and the Wolverines went to the state tournament in Austin and into the 4A championship game.
And the McKinney North girls wondered: Could it have been them playing for a state title?
Now as a new season begins and a core of contributors returns, McKinney North hopes to improve on that breakout season in which it made the regional final.
For most, success comes after a series of gradual improvements. For McKinney North, it came in a giant leap.
Before last season, North had never made the playoffs. It routinely got pushed around by area powers like Frisco, losing to the Raccoons by 56 points as recently as 2008.
Everything changed last season. With players like Aundrea Gamble, Alexis Mason and Rachel Thomas leading the way, North came within a six-point loss to Wakeland of making the state tournament. In the third round of the playoffs, the Bulldogs defeated Frisco, symbolizing how far they had come.
"We figured if we could beat them," Gamble said, "we could beat anybody else who comes our way."
Coach Valerie Little wants to make sure that belief carries over to this season and then some. At practice the other day, she ordered the players to complete five full-court sprints in 35 seconds. A player complained, saying they didn't run so much last season.
"I said, 'Honey, last year you only made it to the regional finals,' " Little said. "That's the whole atmosphere we're trying to create in here."
Mason, Thomas and Gamble discussed the team's higher standards for this season. When new freshmen began practicing, they had to speak to them about the increased responsibility that comes with being a new competitor in area girls basketball.
The responsibility is one they cherish. Same with the added pressure. When asked if she thought other teams would gun for McKinney North this year, Thomas replied quickly.
"I hope so," she said.
TEAMS TO WATCH
A knee injury ended Alexia Standish and Heritage's season in the first round of the playoffs. Standish and fellow senior Morgan Hunt will want to go further in their last year.
Six seniors are back for the Eagles, including post Chelsea Gardner, who join talented junior Jordan Jones.
You can't call it a down year - three losses could never be a down year - but Duncanville couldn't get past Irving MacArthur and Cedar Hill. Three seniors who have committed to play Division I basketball, including Bunny Williams, can bring the Panthers to another level this season.
The Wolverines were the darlings of 4A last season, a young program making it all the way to the state title game. Now they have to prove they can stay at the top, something senior Haley Texada should be ready to help her team do.
District 8-5A will be tough in girls basketball, as it seems to be in every sport, and Plano West and Lewisville should be the two main competitors for the district title.
PLAYERS TO WATCH Player School Cl. Pos. Comment Krystal Barrett Skyline Sr. G Committed to N.C. State; 16.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg last season Alex Green Bishop Lynch Sr. G Committed to Stanford; on pace to set school scoring record Brittney Hardy Frisco Sr. P Double-double machine makes up for loss of Tiffany Moore Moriah Jefferson THESA Jr. G Home-schooled player may be the best in the area Chelsea Jennings North Crowley Jr. G Makes North Crowley go from point guard spot Alexis Jones Irving MacArthur Jr. G 5.2 steals, 14 points per game last season Nicole Kornet Argyle Lib. Chr. Jr. G Team may be biggest private school challenger to Bishop Lynch Alyssa Lang Rockwall Jr. P Averaged nearly a double-double last season Brittanya Sterns Waxahachie Sr. F Led team on surprise playoff run last season Jada Terry Cedar Hill So. F Committed to UT; didn't start last season, now a top contributor Key dates
Today - Majority of teams play first game
Dec. 27-30 - Major holiday tournaments
Feb. 14 - Playoffs begin
March 3-5 - State tournament