Basketball girls come full circle

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The 2018 Lady Panthers are top row, from left, are Bethany McLeod, Shaylin Vickers, Carissa Vickers, Lizzie Buck, Sedona Prince, Kasye Bvers, Carly Cole, Kandyn Faurie. Bottom row, from left, are Makinley Browder, Gracie Whitten, Carissa Garza, Ireland Sargent and Heaven Dandridge.

By LANCE CATCHINGS

The 2017-2018 Liberty Hill girls’ basketball team is proud of their community. They have been a source of pride in Liberty Hill for many years, and their journey to the State Tournament last year and their current playoff run has taken more than a decade to create.

Of the 15 girls that make up the varsity roster, more than 90 percent came through a community summer select basketball organization called the Liberty Hill Swoosh. The Swoosh was started by a group of fathers who loved their daughters, and loved the game of basketball.

“Myself, Clay Cole, Kevin Vickers and Thad Whitten got together and started the Liberty Hill Swoosh,” said Jack Bevers, father of Kasye Bevers. “Our kids wanted to play basketball in the summer, so we said let’s figure out how to do it. We put together the team to compete in local tournaments around the area. We had done Swoosh for four or five years with our older daughters until this group came along. One thing that’s important to us here in this community is the players. All of the teams that have come through the Liberty Hill Swoosh are only from Liberty Hill. If you didn’t go to school or live in Liberty Hill, you were not asked to come play with us. When we played tournaments and teams played the Swoosh, they were playing Liberty Hill.”

Bevers takes no credit for the success of the 33-3 Regional-Tournament-bound Lady Panthers, but said they were a joy to coach and watch play even at a young age.

“As a dad and a coach, it has been an unbelievable molding of young girls from a small town that have the talent and want to make themselves better,” Bevers said. “We would go out and teach them the plays, but all the credit goes to the girls out there on the court working to get better. We sat back and let the girls do what they do best. The girls played the same way when they were young as they do now. They are just bigger and stronger now.”

The Lady Panthers saw just as much success as members of the Liberty Hill Swoosh as they do now. Many of the players still have fond memories of their start in playing team basketball.

“Looking back, other than winning, I really enjoyed the bonds made,” said senior Kandyn Faurie. “They weren’t your ordinary, everyday teammate type of bonds. It became so much more than the word teammate to me. We are a family and they are my sisters. All of our families grew up together. Our younger brothers and sisters were raised together and we were raised together. Their families are my family and vice versa.”

Family is the sentiment that runs through the blood of the Liberty Hill team.

“I’ll never forget all the silly memories Swoosh brought me with these girls,” said Makinley Browder. “They are and always will be my family.”

Shaylin Vickers was not always a fan of the practices, but said her friends made the process worth it.

“I would say practices were not my favorite, but playing with the same group of girls created a lot of good memories and friendships,” Vickers said.

Kasye Bevers echoed the sentiments about practices being tough, but said their struggles during practice brought them together.

“Practices were definitely not my favorite part, either, but we could joke about hating them together,” Bevers said. “Playing together for so long and getting better in the sport and in character is what I am very grateful for.”

Bethany McLeod took a saying she learned on the Swoosh and kept it going the rest of her basketball career.

“I enjoyed getting to grow up with a group of girls, knowing you always had a friend to talk to and someone to ask you, W.W.J.D., “What would Jack (Bevers) do?” McLeod said.

Carly Cole believes the impact of the Swoosh had an effect on her growth not only as a basketball player, but off the court, as well.

“Us playing together for so long formed relationships that will last forever,” Cole said. “We definitely developed good chemistry with one another on the court, and that continued into high school. The Swoosh program not only improved my basketball skills, but taught me how to be a good teammate.”

When a town has a good team, it is something locals take pride in. When a team is successful, it not only reflects the hard work of the athletes, but also their families. Thad Whitten, Gracie Whitten’s father, helped found the Swoosh with one team, and now the Swoosh organization has grown to 12 teams.

“Our daughters loved the game and we loved the game, so it was an easy recipe for us to put together,” Whitten said. “When we started, it was a non-profit organization, and we wanted to make the girls in our towns stronger in basketball. We never dreamed of it growing that way it did, but that’s the way it went. The only stipulation we had for teams was if they wanted to use the Swoosh name, they were not allowed to be for profit. Also, they could not get kids from other districts to play, and everyone has agreed to that. We would be there as soon as the kids got out of school to take them to practices. The schools worked with us, and that was another big element of it. You have to be able to have access to a gym. We are proud of the girls and all they have accomplished and it’s been great to watch them grow up playing basketball over the years.”

Now, those same girls are favored by many to be the 2018 State Champions.

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