By Joseph Garcia
A trio of Liberty Hill all-stars will come together for one last game after a season in which the Lady Panthers became Regional Champions on the way to the State Tournament.
Liberty Hill girls’ basketball Coach Matt Kirschner will head the South squad in the 2012 Texas Girls Coaches Association (TGCA) All-Star Game Thursday, July 12, at Lamar High School in Arlington.
The head coach will be joined by all-stars Taylor Russell and Kourtney Bevers, who will be playing together for the first time since losing in the State semifinal game and the final time before parting ways to suit up for separate colleges.
All three are ecstatic to get the opportunity for one last hurrah. For them, it’s the perfect culmination of an unforgettable season.
“I’m excited that Coach K gets to coach it and that me and Kourtney get to play again with each other,” said Russell who will be attending McMurry University in Abilene this fall. “It’s going to be really fun. We are excited.”
Russell said she has seen Bevers quite a bit over the summer and recently the championship basketball team got together for a sleepover. But nothing compares to playing together on the hard court.
“We haven’t gotten to play with each other since the state tournament so it’s really cool that we will get to one more time before going our separate ways and start new stuff,” Russell said. “I’ve just been enjoying time with family and friends before I have to leave. So, it’s been a good summer so far.”
Coach Kirschner was already in Arlington on Monday for a week of TGCA-related events. As the Basketball Chairman for the TGCA, he attended and taught at clinics leading up to the all-star game. But while he is kept busy until the game, he is not trying to hide his excitement to coach Russell and Bevers one more time and in an all-star setting.
He said he expects Russell and Bevers to help out with coaching.
“Teaching is going to be easier for me because I have two that can help,” admitted Kirschner. “Anytime you coach an all-star game, it’s an honor but it’s more of an honor when you have your own kids. Most coaches only get one player and I actually get two this year. It’s good to be able to coach them one more time.”
Russell and Bevers are joined by 10 other all-stars from classes 1A-3A to make up the South roster including: Alyssa Anthony (Greenwood HS), Khadijah Carter (Goodrich HS), Ciara Guilhas (Hamshire Fannett HS), Morgan Hale (Rockport HS), Ashtyn Henkes (Yoakum HS), Hannah Holik (Wall HS), Katie Isom (Early HS), Roddricka Patton (Neches HS) and Erin Sims (Lorena HS).
Russell looks forward to not only playing with Bevers and for Kirschner, but is excited to be recognized as an all-star for the first time by TGCA and play with the other selectees.
“It’s just going to be fun to get to play with different girls and in a different, relaxed setting where you can just go play,” Russell said. “And so I’m really looking forward to it (because) I haven’t gotten to play in one. It will be really cool and a good experience.”
Kirschner said the game plan is to keep it simple since they only get two practices together. But, of course, his team will run the press.
“But the good thing about (only two practices) is all the girls have high basketball IQs,” Kirschner said. “With their level of talent and their knowledge it shouldn’t be that hard. We are still going to try to press the best you can in an all-star game.”
Coach Kirschner said the North team is going to be loaded with talent as well. And that he has looked at that roster and knew he has coached against a couple of them.
A couple of key players from the North are Peyton Little of Abilene Wylie HS – a name most Panther fans may know – and Kamy Cole from Brock HS, who have put their teams in the State Tournament for the last couple of years.
Bevers, who is Belton-bound this fall to play basketball and softball for the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, said she is glad to already know the system and a brief refresher should be enough.
She too is looking forward to one final go-round with her high school coach and teammate.
“It will be good to kind of have that edge on everybody else,” Bevers said of knowing Kirschner’s system. “Nothing can be like school ball and the way it was before, but I feel like it’s going to be a good taste of old times to be able to play with Taylor and under Coach K again. It’s going to be pretty amazing just to get on the court again.”
After such a phenomenal season, no one can blame Coach K for not wanting it to end before turning his attention to the next year. But like a proud parent, he will keep tabs on his gals.
“Just knowing this year was so great and the last three years were also, I didn’t want this year to end,” Kirschner said. “So I still consider the season not over with. They’ve already made some friendships with the other all-stars. They will get to know each other and build relationships and start watching each other play in college and in some cases play against each other. I’m going to try to go watch them. I want to see what they say is the difference between high school and college.”
When their basketball season was over, Russell took a couple of weeks off before hitting the weight room and gym again. Bevers transitioned to the softball season where she got another taste of the State Tournament and started in the circle for the semifinal versus Henderson. But once the softball season was over, she was right back in the gym to work on her game.
“That’s a sign of a good player,” Kirschner said of Russell and Bevers’ work ethic. “They take the time off that they need but they start chomping at the bit to get back in it. Their careers are just starting again. They will have to prove themselves to their new coaches and teammates. They are going to be successful at the next level. I just know because of the work ethic. They wouldn’t have gotten picked up by those schools if they didn’t see it already.”
The all-star trio reflected on the journey that was the road to the State Tournament.
Each one had a moment in time that seemed to stop as they took in the experience that most high school players and coaches only dream of. For the players it is something they will look fondly upon and remember.
For Russell it was when she entered the Frank Erwin Center floor the Texas Longhorns call home. That’s the moment it sunk in.
“Walking into the gym and seeing all the lights flick on and being like ‘wow, we made it and we’re here at State’,” Russell said. “That was an incredible feeling. And the whole day before the big game, having a little parade was really awesome. None of us will ever forget that day. It was a great experience.”
Two-time TGCA all-star Bevers said her most memorable moment came after the 65-52 loss to Wylie.
“Before the game and during the game you are trying not to think of all the hype,” she said. “But after we had lost it was obviously an emotional time and I was coming up the tunnel and everybody started cheering. That’s probably what I remember the most because we had so much (fan) support.”
Coach Kirschner has his special memories too. But he will have another shot at State – he hopes.
“I had been to the State Tournament to watch as a fun over my coaching career,” said the all-star head coach. “But the chance to walk in through the tunnel, just that experience is something that as a coach you never know how many times you’ll get to do it. I know a lot of great coaches that have never been there. I am not satisfied with just once, I want to go back again.”
In all likelihood, the competition the Lady Panther duo will face at the all-star game will be similar to that of the college ranks. Neither has gone through a college practice yet, much less a scrimmage or game.
Still fresh out of high school, Russell and Bevers are on the precipice of a whole new world outside of Liberty Hill as they prepare for college and everything higher learning brings.
Bevers will also miss the continuity she has with Russell and will use that to the best of her advantage on Thursday for the game.
“It just feels like a regular summer so far,” Bevers joked. “I haven’t done any of my college shopping or anything. But I am excited to get out there and figure out the world. Going off to college you are going to meet all new players and have to figure out what their habits are. Being able to play with Taylor, she and I have a comfort zone. She knows what I do and I know what she does so it’s going to be a lot easier to play in this (all-star) game with her with me.”
Russell will move into her dormitory at McMurry on August 22. She said that graduating from high school makes her feel “old.” But it’s hard for the incoming freshman to know exactly what is in store for her.
She is excited to play with all new teammates, who she already met, and also to take her game to the next level.
“It will be cool to start something new and be in a different place and meet new people,” Russell said. “I’m excited. Getting to travel and getting my education by playing basketball. I can’t wait. I’m really nervous going in as a freshman, but I can’t wait.”
But for now the all-stars will focus on their final moments as part of a basketball team. The girls will never forget where they came from, what they accomplished in high school and who led them there – Coach K.
“He’ll always be my coach,” Bevers said. “(The game) will be good because I know what he wants and I kind of know what his thinking process is.”
Russell said Coach Kirschner did a great job leading them to the Promised Land and talked about what kind of mentor he was throughout her high school career.
She also knows what coaching her and Bevers in this all-star game means personally.
“He was very supportive and he wanted the best for all of us,” she said. “He always looked out for us and wanted to make sure that we were happy with how things were going. He looked out for our best interest. I think he sees us as almost his other daughters and so I think he is really pumped about this week and getting to coach us one more time.”