Feb 22, 2016 04:59PM
● By Dia
Photos nu Stewart Johnson
Expectations are always high for any athletic program at Southlake Carroll.
But that rings especially true for girls. The Lady Dragons have captured district titles every season since head coach Teri Morrison came over from Hewitt Midway seven years ago.
But with the loss of key players like point guard Kennedy Leonard, who signed with Colorado upon graduation, this season’s expectations should be tempered.
“I thought we would maintain a pretty competitive team,” Morrison says. “But we knew we were going to struggle with our point guard position. We’ve done some good things, but we’ve struggled with inexperience. I thought we would be at around 17-8 right now.”
Instead, Southlake Carroll sits at 14-11 overall through its first 25 games and are still trying to find their way as a team. Morrison is confident her team can put it all together before the end of district play, especially after undergoing a rigorous non-conference schedule.
The Lady Dragons looked like they were going to pick up right where they left off last season after thrashing Keller Central, 64-18, in the season opener and getting off to a 4-1 start, with their only loss coming in a close battle with Ar- gyle.
But Southlake Carroll faced plenty of adversity in the Allen Tournament, falling to both Plano and San Antonio Wagner. Things wouldn’t get much bet- ter for Southlake Carroll as it dropped its next two games to Grapevine and Arlington Bowie.
After an impressive showing in the Canyon Tournament that saw Southlake Carroll take down Canadian, Wylie and Abilene Wylie, the Lady Dragons again dropped back-to-back games— this time to Keller and McKinney North.
With a gauntlet of a slate and a younger team still trying to gel, Southlake Carroll failed to find any consistency.
“We probably played one of the toughest non-district schedules,” Morrison says. “We played seven ranked teams and beat four of them. Our schedule was tough, and I was happy with the way our team played.
“If you play against the best, you have to find a way to contain them and play with them. What we learned is you can’t take plays off. You have to be ready to take the ball up court and play defense. It was a grind and we survived it.”
Southlake Carroll used the experience it garnered in the pre- season to catch fire at the start of district play, winning games against Haltom, Hurst L.D. Bell, Coppell and Richland—the Lady Dragons also defeated Wolfforth Frenship and Brock in the Mansfield Rotary Invitational during the holidays.
District play, which is often referred to as the second season, is when Southlake Carroll thrives, and Morrison says she is proud of the way her team performed in the four victories.
“We’ve played extremely well,” Morrison says. “We’ve been rebounding well, scoring well and our free throw percentage has been good. We’re still working on protecting the ball, but overall, we were really happy with our 4-0 start.”
Morrison has also been pleased with the rise of junior guard Priscilla Smeenge. The Lady Dragons’ leading scorer, Smeenge, has been a force all season, averaging 15.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 2.6 assists per game.
“She plays great on both the offensive and defensive end,” Morrison says. “She works extremely hard. She puts in the extra effort after practice. She stays long hours. Other players go home after practice, and Priscilla doesn’t. She’s fun to coach.”
Southlake Carroll has also received a boost in district play from the leadership of seniors Anna Hurlburt, who is committed to Arkansas Little Rock, and Natalie Flexer.
Hurlburt has been one of the area’s best post players, averaging 13.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, while Flexer has chipped in with 4.2 points per game and stellar play on defense from her guard spot.
“Natalie has provided great support to our young players,” Morrison says. “She’s not one of our top scorers, but she’s a captain and everyday she gets better. In the games that we’ve struggled, she’s provided a lot of positive support.
“Anna has been a great leader as well. She’s a 6-foot-2 post, and she’s one of our assists leaders.
Her transition game is very
good. I’ve been very pleased with her and what she’s been able
to do this year.”
Despite the fast start, Southlake Carroll lost its first district game since December of 2012 when Euless Trinity pummeled the Lady Dragons, 54-29.
“It’s been a long time since we lost a district game,” Morrison says. “Trinity just outplayed us. We were shell-shocked. In district, you have to win those games. Our new kids have to understand the importance of winning district games.”
Southlake Carroll dropped its next district game as well, falling to Colleyville Heritage, 54-47, just three days later.
In order for the Lady Dragons to rebound from the defeats, its underclassmen need to step up in a big way. Freshmen Kayla Colan, Rachel Seyler and Gabby McBride have all been contributors on varsity this season.
“Those three freshmen are all impact players for us,” Morrison says. “We lost our sophomore Brooke Lay for the season, which makes it even more important for these freshmen to step up and grow up in a hurry. I didn’t think we would have three freshmen on the court, but I’m very happy with their progress.”
With their backs against the wall, it’s time for the Lady Dragons to rise for the occasion. A district title is still not out of the picture as Southlake Carroll will have the opportunity to avenge their losses to Euless Trinity and Colleyville Heritage later in the year.
But more importantly, the Lady Dragons need to close out the season strong in order to secure a playoff spot. Only half a dozen games remain, and Southlake Carroll currently sits in third place.
“We need to continue to work on protecting the ball and eliminating turnovers,” Morrison says. “I expect them to keep coming together as a team. We want to win out to be district champions. We want to keep that streak alive. But our No. 1 goal is play every game and leave it on the floor.”