Coming up short in a Class 3A area-round playoff tilt against powerhouse Gunter, the Whitesboro Lady Cats had an incredible turnaround from last season.
Whitesboro went 8-24 last season and came in second to last in district, but this season was a much different story.
The Lady Cats finished second in District 10-3A with an 11-3 record and closed out the season 16-11 after the 57-33 loss to Gunter.
Head coach Nick Hiebert said after seeing where the team was a year ago, this season was a massive success.
“The game itself, we knew we were coming in against an incredibly talented and well coached team,” Hiebert said. “To explain how you feel after a game like that, you have to rewind the clock a year to see how it started. They were 8-24 last season and they won three district games. Gunter was in Whitesboro’s district and both losses were at least 30-point losses. For our girls to even be able to step in with the mindset of competing, is a huge testament to how far they’ve come this year.”
Hiebert said the steps the team took this season were gigantic, especially considering all the hurdles they had to jump over.
“We only had about four months together,” Hiebert said. “We had a bunch of adversity with injuries and COVID. I’m just really proud of them. There are certain steps for programs and some people have different benchmarks they want to see for the season. It can take people several years to make the playoffs and for us to do it in the first year, it springs us forward in our schedule.
“It was a big step for us to do it and it could have taken the starters the rest of their high school career to do it. There isn’t a mystery with playoffs anymore.”
Throughout the season, the Lady Cats had to constantly adjust their mindset. Whitesboro had a shot at the district crown in the second half of district play, which was a stark contrast to last season.
“When you’re not used to being in the playoffs, you can check out in January and it gave us four or five weeks longer to our season,” Hiebert said. “Our spring sports start in mid-January and your mind can drift, so it’s big for them to focus on the next basketball practice. It’s a whole new experience for them to have and we had to battle in the second round of district. There are so many lessons built in this year.”
The Lady Cats knocked off Keene 52-21 in the bi-district round, but Gunter was a much stiffer opponent as it swept its district for a top playoff seed.
Whitesboro led early, but Gunter emerged with a hefty lead at halftime.
“We knew Gunter liked to play fast and we wanted to be the ones who hit first,” Hiebert said. “We were up 7-4, but we trailed 11-8 after the first quarter. They were a little unsure with the lead. I think our lack of maturity cost us in the second quarter. That kind of put a damper headed to the locker room headed to halftime.”
While the game was out of reach, Hiebert said he was proud of his team’s commitment to closing out the game the right way.
“It was a good experience being down and continuing to play and play and having that mindset until the final buzzer went off,” Hiebert said. “Libby Langford fouled out at the end of the third quarter and I couldn’t take her out.”
Hiebert said he and the coaching staff will be combing over the Gunter film in the coming weeks with hopes of diagnosing where things went wrong.
“We’re going to give the kids time off obviously, but we’ll always come back to this game as a measuring stick to make sure the next time we see them that we don’t cost ourselves in a few keys areas,” Hiebert said. “We shot 44% from the free-throw line. We got fouled but just didn’t convert. They switched defenses on us a couple times and we got caught in a couple traps. If you take those away, it’s a closer game and a lot scrappier.”
Having his team understand what being in the hunt for the district championship is like is valuable experience, Hiebert said. From buzzer-beating losses to defeats at the hands of the top teams of the state, the lumps the Lady Cats took will embolden them for next season.
Whitesboro graduates two seniors BreAnn Best and Elly Harper. Hiebert said the impact they had on the team was immeasurable.
“They’re just very special kids that took care of everyone around them,” Hiebert said. “After our playoff game, I asked the rest of the team to raise their hands if the seniors had helped them this season and they all raised their hands. It sent a very positive message to the girls on the way out that it was going to be their legacy.
“I believe they’re responsible for the culture and forming really great relationships.”