Feb 23, 2017 09:43AM
● By Ashley Pape
Terri Morrison might be facing her toughest challenge yet as head coach of the Southlake Carroll girls basketball team.
The Lady Dragons have captured a district title in every season except one —Southlake Carroll reached the playoffs as the fourth-place team last season — since head coach Teri Morrison came over from Hewitt Midway eight years ago.
But this year has been a true struggle. Southlake Carroll sits at 8-16 overall and is still trying to find its way as a team.
“We’re calling it the youth movement,” Morrison says. “We lost our two leading scorers and all-state players. We had two returning starters, but we still went in with high expectations. We thought we had a good nucleus with them, but we knew we were going to be young.
“I think the biggest challenge is getting them to believe in themselves every day because we really believe in them as a staff. They bring it every day. They work hard. They’re fun to coach. But our confidence isn’t where it should be.”
As Morrison alluded to, it was a rough offseason for the Lady Dragons. Star player Anna Hurlburt graduated and the team’s returning leading scorer, Priscilla Smeenge, a Florida signee, moved out of state.
To make matters worse, graduation hit the Lady Dragons hard. In fact, Southlake Carroll does not have any seniors on its roster. The “youth movement” is true in every sense of the phrase.
Southlake Carroll showed promise early in the year. The Lady Dragons opened the season with three straight wins against Keller Central, Richland and Dallas HSAA Blue. Southlake Carroll, however, lost four out of its next five games as inexperience began to take its toll.
The Lady Dragons rebounded in the Brewer Tournament with back-to-back wins against Fort Worth Poly and Everman before falling to Weatherford in a heartbreaker.
“We hoped for a great outcome with a mix of teams in non-district,” Morrison says. “We beat the teams we should have beat. Against more experienced and more skillset teams, we struggled scoring and protecting the ball. We felt the preseason helped us grow as a team.”
But the losses continued to pile up.
After entering district play with a 6-5 record, the Lady Dragons quickly fell below .500 as they dropped their first four district contests to Colleyville Heritage, Euless Trinity, Flower Mound Marcus and Lewisville, with three of those losses coming by double digits.
“Our district is very tough,” Morrison says. “The teams are very athletic. We have two of the top players in the country and a lot of good players on different teams. It’s a tough landscape. They have experienced teams. We have more youth.”
The Lady Dragons got a break in the district action around the holidays as they boarded a plane to Phoenix for the Nike Tournament of Champions, which is considered one of the most competitive high school girls basketball events in the country.
While Southlake Carroll lost three of its four games in the tournament, it built some confidence by staying in games against elite teams and picking up a win over Horizon Christian Academy of California.
But the district slate wasn’t kind. Both Byron Nelson and L.D. Bell welcomed Southlake Carroll home with losses.
The Lady Dragons, however, turned on a switch against Hebron and picked up their first league win with a 45-31 victory.
“It was a great feeling,” Morrison says. “We executed the game plan. We were very excited. We played really good defense and got a lot of turnovers. We had three players fill the box and score. It was a really good win for us.”
The Lady Dragons faced Flower Mound next and led at halftime before falling by nine. Euless Trinity handed the team another loss as they slipped to 1-7 in district play.
With only five games remaining, the Lady Dragons are tied at the bottom of the district standings and need their two returning starters, sophomores Gabby McBride and Kayla Colan, to continue to rise to the occasion.
McBride leads the team with 8.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Colan is at the top of the leaderboard in assists per game with 2.4.
“They’re fun to coach,” Morrison says. ‘They’re great kids. Gabby is great in the post. Kayla is our point guard leader. She’s quick. I think she’s done a good job with our young players and helping them understand the game.”
The Lady Dragons also need their two freshmen, Jillian Sowell and Claire Reynolds, to grow up in a hurry and continue to make an impact for this youth movement.
“Jillian has done a great job,” Morrison says. “She’s been a starter for the last eight games. She’s really energetic and gets to the basket. Claire is our sixth player off the bench and has started a couple of games. She’s a tall kid and a good shooter. They’ve done a really good job for us.”
Overall, Morrison wants to see improvement in scoring (Southlake Carroll averages around 40 points per game) and limiting turnovers — two areas that come with the territory of having a young team — as the Lady Dragons attempt to save their season.
“We’re still struggling with the same issues,” Morrison says. “We haven’t been able to protect the ball and haven’t been able to score. Our team is very young. We’re just trying to figure out things, but our inexperience is showing. We’re inconsistent. Inconsistency leads to turnovers and turnovers lead to collapses.
“But we’re playing better. We’re in games more. The scores have been closer, but something always seems to catch us at the wrong times. We’re playing well enough to compete but not win.”
So what is Morrison’s message to the team with the season on the line? It’s simple —take it one game at a time.
“We’re trying to focus on us and be the best we can be,” Morrison says. “If we share the ball and don’t turn it over, we can beat people. Our goals are to use our improvement to get that score differentiated to where we are in the win column instead of the loss column.”