COLLEGE STATION - Leyla Ertan knew that this season was going to be different.
After making it to the TAPPS 5A State Championship game and losing the starting five to graduation, heading into the 2020-2021 season, the outside expectations of Second Baptist School women's basketball may not have been high.
But somebody forgot to tell the team that they weren't supposed to make this kind of run.
Second Baptist School with just one senior gracing the roster, rumbled its way through the district slate and then the playoffs to play Southwest Christian School for the TAPPS 5A State Championship on Friday night at College Station High School.
Despite a third-quarter rally fueled by Kate Marshall and company, Second Baptist School fell short, 54-40, ending its season as the TAPPS 5A State Runner-Up for a second-straight season.
"Last season it was almost expected that we would go to state," Ertan said. "This season was different. Everyone told us it was going to be a rebuilding year. Just to make it to the state championship game, I'm so proud of my girls."
Leading this young group - including a freshman starting point guard in Olivia Sauvageau - was a role that Ertan had to grow into this season she admitted.
But when it was all over, Ertan wouldn't have changed any part of her senior season.
"To lead them and to grow into a vocal leader and leading by example, it is just the greatest blessing I could have asked for for my senior year," she said.
VYPE Postgame: Caught up with @SBS_Athletics women's basketball coach John Herndon and senior Leyla Ertan after the game. #txhshoops #vypecampus @mawalker_SBAD pic.twitter.com/dsRZXY3CqW
— vypehouston (@vypehouston) March 13, 2021
At the end of the game, every player took the walk from the free-throw line out to Herndon, who was waiting to drape a red ribboned medal around each player's neck.
When it was Ertan's turn the senior gave Herndon a smile. They hugged. The coach spoke a few words into her ear before she patted him on the back and walked away.
"First off, it's incredibly hard when she walks towards me and I have to give her her medal," Herndon said. "Also that she stayed so late at practices with me t the end of the year to soak it all up. She didn't want it to ever end. Losing her is a big deal but she taught the younger girls how to lead."
This trip to the TAPPS Final Four marked the fourth-straight trip for Second Baptist School and a second-straight run to the TAPPS State Championship game.
For Ertan, when asked what this program has meant to her the word that she led with - Family.
"Four years fly by so fast," Ertan said. "It's been a complete blessing to know these girls over the past four years. They grow to be exactly like family. So, to have a second family and come back next year and watch them play, I'm just so excited."
With the majority of his roster coming back, Herndon is excited about the future of this program.
"Those young girls we have the seed planted early for them," he said. "So, we're ready to pick up where we left off."
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.