Experienced Lady Panthers set out to avenge 2017 State Championship loss

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Senior Bethany McLeod (#10) shoots a corner three during the Lady Panthers’ loss to Ellison on Tuesday. McLeod finished with 12 points. (Shannon Hofmann Photo)

By LANCE CATCHINGS

Following a loss in last season’s State Championship, the Liberty Hill varsity girls’ basketball team has gotten off to an up-and-down start. After a 66-30 blowout victory over Belton to start the season, the Lady Panthers went 4-1 in the Bowie Be-YOU-tiful Classic tournament. In their first home game on Tuesday, the Lady Panthers lost to Ellison by a final score of 51-48.

In the absence of Sedona Prince, who sat due to a sore knee, the Lady Panthers were led by Kandyn Faurie, who finished with 21 points.

According to Head Coach Chris Lange, the loss was due in large part to poor free throw shooting and mental mistakes.

“We shot only 61 percent from the free throw line, which is below our average by about nine percent, which is an issue,” Lange said. “The first half, we did not play with the discipline and the intensity we normally play with. That put us behind the eight ball. It was 33-22 at halftime, so we were down by 11 points. We turned the ball over too many times and we did not block out on free throws, which was a big issue. We made too many mental mistakes.”

Despite the inconsistencies over the past week, the Lady Panthers are back for the 2017-2018 season with a talented roster and a senior-heavy team that has high expectations. Prince, their 6’7” star center, has already signed her letter of intent to play at The University of Texas, and forward Kandyn Faurie signed her letter of intent to play for Tarleton State. Lange said there will be more to come.

“We had two players sign to continue their athletic careers already,” Lange said. “5’9” Kandyn Faurie,
who plays forward for us, signed with Tarleton State University and 6’7” center Sedona Prince signed with the University of Texas at Austin. We still have one more that will sign when she decides where she wants to go. We have eight seniors this year that come back to a team that lost in the State Final last season.”

This year, Lange said he and the team will focus on a complete team mentality early in the season. The first half of the schedule is loaded with tough tournaments, featuring games against larger Conference 5A and 6A opponents.

“Last year was all about ‘One more,’ and we came up one game short in the championship game,” Lange said. “It is all about discipline and teamwork. We preach all that stuff to make sure that it’s not one person on our team; we have to have everybody working on the same page. We have five on the court, and the other seven on the bench have to be on the same page. Our ultimate goal is to work together, and if we can start doing that, it will make our life so much easier. We set up this preseason game schedule to test ourselves. There is nothing that will be easy. We have a lot of tournaments set up.”

Lange said the expectations couldn’t possibly be higher for this year’s team, and that is a challenge they will face head-on.

“One of the good things about being Liberty Hill is that the expectations are always high,” he said. “We didn’t talk about State until around Christmas time last season. This year, everybody knows the ultimate goal is to get back there again and win it. We are not shying away from that this year, and we are going to accept the challenge. There is so much pressure on these girls, and if we lose games right now, in the preseason, that’s okay. This preseason is set up to be a challenge. It’s not supposed to be easy. We want to keep them hungry and keep them working hard. In the last two years, we’ve only lost seven games. We have to understand that we can get beat any night. We are still in the early stages, so we have a lot to clean up and work on, so it’s good to be where we’re at right now.”

During this preseason stretch, Lange is looking to see how different lineups gel together on the court and how they handle adversity when faced with it. After a 49-47 win against Plano East on Thursday, Nov. 9, he made note of how quickly a game can change.

“Right now, we are trying to see how we handle adversity,” Lange said. “You can be up by 15 and things happen. You are only up by eight at the half, and the fouls start coming. Before you know it, it’s a one-point game. Then you have key players foul out, and it has to be next man up. We will need to learn how to play with foul trouble. All these games are about how we handle these situations. How do we respond if someone gets hurt or in foul trouble? We have some talent on this team, but we have to figure out how we fit together. Some of them will play larger roles this season, so we have to figure out how to make it work together as a team.”

With the colossal amount of pressure at hand, Lange will rely on his seven main rotation players for leadership in the face of adversity that will no doubt come their way throughout the long season.

“There is a ton of pressure on our top seven girls,” he said. “They have to step up and handle it when we get in tough situations. They will make mistakes, and they will learn from it. I lean on them, and I expect them to handle it when things don’t go right.”

One of Liberty Hill’s biggest advantages this season is experience, which their eight seniors have a lot of. Having coached some of these girls since junior high, Lange is confident they will put in the work to get the results they want.

“The good thing is I got to coach a lot of them in junior high school,” Lange said. “I think we all like and respect each other. They come in and work hard every day. There is an advantage to having kids that have been in the system. Taking over three years ago and having kids that know me and know what to expect is a real benefit. It’s all about the kids. It’s not about the coaching. Everything is up to them. I am just trying to lead them the best I can. They are good kids that work hard and know how to win.”

At 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 17, the Lady Panthers will head to Killeen, where they’ll face Shoemaker at Shoemaker High School.

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