The Hardin-Jefferson Lady Hawks brought an arsenal of talent into the 2020 season and last year's state final appearance, while impressive, left the team bereft of what could have been. H-J fought a formidable Argyle squad tough throughout the contest before foul trouble and depth ended their season with a 49-41 loss.
Coach Mike Fogo looks towards this season's playoffs with nine returning players, including district heavyweights Delberta Guillory-Smith (Defensive MVP), Ashlon Jackson (Newcomer of the Year), and Makenna Henry (1st Team All-District).
The Lady Hawks are currently ranked #3 in class 4A in the latest Texas Association of Basketball Coaches (TABC) poll.
"We're getting better," said Fogo.
"Right now we're still competing against ourselves. After last year's state final loss on the bus ride home we sat together and put together a schedule that would address what we would need to do to win the state championship this year. We wanted to put our girls in difficult spots."
One agenda point was playing tougher competition in the preseason to gauge weaknesses and to define roles for their solid depth. H-J took on multiple 6A and 5A teams with exceptional results beating larger enrollment schools such as West Brook (71-41), San Antonio Reagan (47-45), Klein Forest (64-20), and Crosby 89-38.
H-J also had a solid win over 4A counterpart and #13 ranked Jasper 70-47.
"Playing against those bigger schools brings with it the challenge of competing with their depth and learning how to play without foul trouble. Their tempo is slower than what we're used to and it forces you out of your comfort zone," said Fogo.
Along with Guillory-Smith and Henry the Lady Hawks also bring senior leadership with Asia Wheeler, Kassi Hardy, and Imrie Collier. Experience will be key in later playoff rounds where on late game decisions will often determine the outcome of winning or losing.
"This years team has an interesting characteristic in that there in not one leader. The freshmen girls lead by effort, the seniors lead by being consistent. It's easier to define roles when your team is consistent."
The Lady Hawks are currently 23-8 and 8-0 in district play and next play at Bridge City tonight.
To listen to a podcast interview with Hardin-Jefferson head girls basketball coach Mike Fogo click on the play button below.
The Jasper Lady Bulldogs are peaking at just the right time with playoff competition only a fortnight away. Ranked fourteenth in the latest 4A Texas Girls Coaches Association poll, Brandon Shumake's crew has delivered wide ranging wins since November.
With wins over multiple 5A schools already this season, this senior laden squad is poised to smash past last years area round loss to Midlothian Heritage. Lead by daughter Kinley Shumake the third year coach also relies on top scorer Asia Mitchell (17ppg), Heaven Scott, and Amiah Mcqueen to fortify the teams winning personality.
"The four seniors have all started since they were sophomores," said Shumake.
"They bought in early with a 'team first' attitude, who cares who gets the credit. They not only go to the gym as a group they bring the younger players, always working on their shots."
Jasper is currently 27-5 on the season after their district win Friday night over Hudson.
Their preseason included impressive wins over 5A teams Montgomery (83-33), Tomball (70-36), PNG twice (64-36, 55-40), Vidor (87-19) and Port Arthur Memorial 62-30. The Lady Bulldogs narrowly missed a defining upset over 5A powerhouse Barbers Hill with a 51-50 loss.
Now their focus is finishing out the season, getting a top seed with a district championship and establishing a legacy with a strong playoff push. Last year the Lady Bulldogs lost to Midlothian Heritage in the area round 75-46 on the Sam Houston State campus.
"I don't think we were quite prepared for that experience," said Shumake.
"We were a young group playing in a big game in a big arena. We set our schedule this year so that wouldn't happen to us again. We played big arenas against the toughest competition we could find."
"This year we're a little bit more prepared, a little bit more seasoned, and a little bit more ready for the moment."
The 4A state tournament begins March 6 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Jasper has made the state tournament twice in school history. In 1965 the Lady Bulldogs lost to Victoria 61-60 in the state semifinals and in 1953 they lost to Whitesboro 40-39 in the quarterfinals.*
To listen to a podcast interview with Jasper head girls basketball coach Brandon Shumake click on the play button below.
*University Interscholastic League Archives (online)