From the little second and third graders running frivolously across the gym floor to the high schoolers who pull on the Second Baptist School jersey. Development has always played a key role in Herndon's programs and even more so in the 2020-2021 season with just one senior gracing the roster.
"It's so much fun working with younger girls," Herndon said. "The bulk of what we have out there this year is 10th graders. It's been really pleasing. The players this year just want to continue living out the legacy of the example that the girls set for them last year."
The example that the Class of 2020 left is apparent that the returners took it to heart.
Despite being a young team, including having a freshman point guard in Olivia Sauvageau as one of the five starters, the Second Baptist School has done what they expected in the house to do.
An undefeated record in district play brought another district crown to Second Baptist School and a first-round bye in the 2021 TAPPS 5A Playoffs. Instead of taking the week off, the Lady Eagles faced perennial TAPPS 6A power, St. Agnes Academy, last Friday as a playoff warmup.
They beat the Tigers 55-45.
A team of mainly sophomores, four in total, a freshman point guard, a pair of juniors, and one senior are now a win away from the TAPPS Final Four after defeating Providence Christian 65-47 on Tuesday at home.
"They have grown a lot," Herndon said. "When you listen to players talk it's an echo of their coaching and teachers. You just hear them repeating things that they hear us say. Whether it's in character building or basketball. You know that they are improving if we hear that language out of them and then we see the action that backs up the words as well. I'm really happy that they're at this point."
Let's break this down by class.
The lone senior we keep referring to is Leyla Ertan ('22).
Ertan played a key role on the team in 2020 that made the run all the way to Waco. This season, even though it took a little bit for her to find it, Herndon said she has grown into that senior leader this team has needed.
"She has grown into this leadership role nicely this season and has gotten more and more vocal as the season went on," Herndon said. "This has been fun to watch."
Now, the juniors.
Caitlyn Torn ('21) and Chloe Burton ('21) have both been key pieces to this team's success in 2021. Torn saw action as a sophomore and played "significant" minutes while another player was coming back from injury. This year, her defense has shined.
"She's just one of those kids on defense that makes the offenses person's life miserable," Herndon said. "She's always pressuring hard."
Burton did not get a lot of minutes a year ago and this season has stepped in when she is needed. The best thing about her is when she does come in, Herndon said they don't miss a beat.
Now, the sophomores.
This set of four – Ella Ryan, Molly Johnson, Olivia Walker, and Kate Marshall – have found success very quickly at the varsity level.
Ryan is the younger sister of Victoria, who was one of the five starters a year ago, and starters at shooting guard. Walker is referred to by Herndon as the Lady Eagles' "sixth man" as she relishes the role of coming off the bench, playing big minutes, and scoring. Johnson is a constant contributor and infuses energy and passion into the offense.
"It's nice to have them achieving while they're at this young age," Herndon said about the Class of 2023.
Finally, the freshmen.
Two names have the Class of 2024 next to their names on this roster in Sauvageau and Emma Wehring. Both are guards for the Lady Eagles and Sauvageau starts at the point.
"'[Sauvageau] is very capable with the ball," Herndon said. "Not only is she a gym-rat and plays with a lot of 'swag' out there but she is really trustworthy with the basketball. Even when she's being pressured, she can handle it and execute our offense. She doesn't rattle too much."
At this point of the year, with a TAPPS Final Four berth on the line come Saturday, Herndon has already told his team they've overachieved for this year, so they can play without fear.
"Just go out there and lay it on the line," he said. "Don't be afraid to make any mistakes and if you do you're just human. The reason we're playing a little better is we're eliminating young mistakes.
"It's nice to have a team that expects to be there."
There are two philosophies that Herndon coaches with and they are both acronyms.
The first is F.L.I – Fun, Learn, Improve – and the second is his three L's – Laugh a Lot, Learn the Game, Lifelong Memories.
"We are all going to blink and it's going to be 25 or 30 years from now," Herndon said. "I just want them to look back and have loved every day of basketball and loved being with my teammates."
Second Baptist School faces Incarnate Word-Corpus Christi on Saturday in Victoria, Texas. With a win, the Lady Eagles will move on to the TAPPS Final Four.
SITTING INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM, A TAPPS 5A RUNNER-UP STATE BANNER LAYING ON THE GROUND, MEDALS ATTACHED TO RED MATERIAL DRAPED AROUND THEIR NECKS, THE SECOND BAPTIST SCHOOL WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM TOOK IN THE WORDS OF JOHN HERNDON.
The second-year coach was raw with his emotion.
"Everybody, get eye contact with me," Herndon said with his voice shaking. "I love you all."
He had just watched his team go toe-to-toe with Southwest Christian for 32 minutes, falling just short in the end in February. The 73-63 loss ended the Eagles' season as the second-best in Texas.
"This has been a dream for most of us since the third grade," Kaitlyn Kollmorgen ('20) said moments after the loss. "We've been playing together for a really long time. We've been working so hard it just means a lot."
The senior class—Victoria Ryan, Alyssa Elias, Caroline Torn, Emily Blackmon and Kollmorgen—has played with each other for a long time.
That bond is unbreakable on and off the court. "We've played together, we've fought together, we've loved each other," Ryan said.
Emily BlackmonPhoto by Bradley Collier of VYPE Media
The run to a second straight TAPPS Final Four has put Second Baptist School on the map when it comes to women's basketball. But for private schools, most of the future success of its program is based on the development within the school.
As much as the current high school students, administrators and coaches will remember these players, the same could be said about the kindergartners, first graders and second graders walking the halls.
"These girls that made it to the state championship are great models for our young ones," Herndon said. "We just want to continue in their footsteps as we go along."
During Herndon's emotional post-game speech, he and other coaches touched on the fact of the young girls at Second Baptist School looking up to them.
"I have an army of little ones getting ready to come up and you're going to be really proud of them," Herndon said.
As the seniors walk away, their goal is that what they have done and the example they have been to every young girl at Second Baptist School pays off years down the road for the program.
"We want Second Baptist School to be a girls' basketball powerhouse," Ryan said. "We feel cool being that inaugural class getting this team going. [Herndon] coaches from us all the way to the little kids. He knows each of them by name. "Getting to be a part of that and seeing what they want to look up to is a neat experience. I hope they keep sticking with basketball because Second Baptist is about to be a girls' basketball powerhouse for good."
Victoria RyanPhoto by Bradley Collier of VYPE Media