HISTORY: St. Mary's Hall wins first ever district championship; eyes set on more
History was made on Thursday night, as the St. Mary’s Hall girls basketball team defeated Victoria St. Joseph 74-39 to claim its first outright district title in program history.
"The feeling in the locker room was, I don't even have a word to describe it," said freshman point guard Beya Chase. "We were all just so proud of each other because we all respect each other so much. It just means so much to us because we would not have been able to do this without our coaches without Julia leading us, every single person on team brings something."
For Coach Matthew Hayes and his staff, it's been something he's been building to since becoming head coach in 2020.
"I knew we had a core group that could really help change the culture," said coach Hayes. "And, you know, the first year was kind of a COVID year and it's kind of messy. But we we finished right around .500. And I can kind of see that the girls are really hungry. And last year just we just broke through and we just had a good core group that was hungry and worked hard and went to open gyms and that was kind of catalyst this year. We have a really, really good freshman class and when we put all the pieces together, I mean, it was just, you know, magic."
"We already had goals for the team at the beginning of the season," said first year assistant coach Makayla Mabry. "And I just kind of knew regardless that with the team that we have, that was something that we were going to do."
Leading the way for St. Mary's Hall has been Chase, who is averaging 17.5 points per game. She is quick to point out, though, that it has been the players around her that have helped her adjust to the varsity game as a Freshman.
"I really think it's because of the core group of players already there," says Chase. "And when we came in as freshmen, we just fit perfectly which has lead to our team chemistry. We have such great team chemistry."
One of the reasons for the team bonding so well has been because of the leadership of the lone senior, and captain, of the team Julia Garcia who has helped bring a winning mindset to the underclassmen.
"It used to be more about just playing basketball like we didn't think we could win. We had some okay players. But it was never about like, longevity or like. Scouting for future years. Or just like maintaining that championship mentality," said Garcia
But that's changed over the course of Coach Hayes time with St. Mary's, although he is quick to point out the shift in mindset couldn't have been possible without the players having the winning mindset themselves.
"I give credit to the kids, they want to work hard and, you know, we took a playoff loss last year and it was really motivating for us," Hayes said. "The one simple thing I tied down that I kind of stole from the Baylor men's team, the idea of a culture of joy. I just wanted basketball to be a place where our kids can come and, and be happy and feel loved and feel supported and, and just kind of let the chips fall from there."
That joy was present all season long as St. Mary's would go on to a 25-8 record with a 12-2 record in district play. But while every win in district brought them one step closer to their first district championship, Garcia knew this team would not let the lights be too big.
"I think as the only senior, I definitely had a different perspective on this than the younger players because I experienced all the losing in my previous years," said Garcia. " But for this team it wasn't necessarily about how much we beat them by or like all the stuff we did, we just kept working on things that we could improve on and just went to next game."
Throughout the year, though, Coach Hayes was quick to point out that this team was one big unit with assistant coach Mabry being a key addition to this team's success.
"Coach Mabry has been just a godsend and a fantastic addition," coach Hayes said. "And honestly, her in game adjustments have won us a couple games this year."
Now St. Mary's Hall will turn its attention to the playoffs, looking to avoid the first round exit that found them last season.
"I know everyone in our locker room is still incredibly hungry. We don't want it to end and when you have a close team like this and it's probably, the closest group of kids I've ever coached I mean, you just kind of want to keep hanging out with each," said coach Hayes. "It's the driver for us. It's just we don't want to stop seeing each other every day and you know, that's what we're going to use to motivate us when we get to work this weekend and Monday and heading into playoffs."
For freshman Beya Chase and senior Julia Garcia, the playoffs come with both similar and different mindsets.
"I think the mindset the whole year is like we're hungry as a team. Like we, we have goals that we want to accomplish so just keep working to get the to those goals," said Chase.
"I think it would be great to win games, but I just want us to be proud of the way we played," said Garcia. "We are going to face some pretty tough teams and I think we can definitely make it far. But we just need to keep our heads in check because it can definitely go to our heads a bit like winning this district championship and being the first seed. But I think we all need to remember where we came from and remember our losses and when we haven't played as well."
And while it might sound cliché, Coach Hayes knows how special this team has been this season.
"From Coach Mabry, and then from our leadership with Julia, and then our junior Captain Pinky Gomez and, and all the freshman and all our players and managers. I'm just so incredibly proud of them," coach Hayes said. "It is a cliché in sports, but this team really is a family and and I wouldn't want to win with any other group."
St. Mary's Hall takes on Fort Bend Christian in the first round of the playoffs Tuesday at 5PM at St. Mary's Hall.