Up next for Lady Panthers: defending state champ Argyle
By LAUREN JETTE
For the second time in as many years, and third time in the last four years, the Lady Panthers will make the trip to the UIL State Basketball Tournament in pursuit of Liberty Hill’s first basketball championship.
It will be a tough path to maneuver as the first step for Liberty Hill will be against the defending state champion Lady Eagles of Argyle, who are coming in with a 33-1 record and at least eight returning players on the roster.
Last season ended a step short of the ultimate goal as the Lady Panthers were on the short end of a 53-42 semifinal game against Abilene Wylie, who is also making a return trip this season.
All four teams from last year’s semifinals are back, with Waco La Vega facing off against Abilene Wylie in the other semifinal that will be played before Liberty Hill and Argyle face off.
The Lady Eagles defeated Abilene Wylie in the final 46-25 to claim their second state championship.
Argyle also advanced this far in 2014, 2009 and 2006, when it won the state title in the 2A division.
The Lady Panthers admit nerves and the bright lights of the big stage got to them last year, but with the bulk of last year’s team back again, don’t look for a repeat of that.
Lady Panthers making the return to the state tournament include Andrea House, Sarah Buck, Madeline Cheney, Bridgett House, Amanda Boliek, Allee Nix, Abbi Shelton, Megan Huppee, Mikayla Stiles, Autumn Lange, Kandyn Faurie and Kaylie Potts.
“Last year, we didn’t know what to expect, so we were all coming in with nerves,” said senior Bridgett House. “This year, it hasn’t hit me yet. Like last year, I was really, really excited and this year… I’m ready.”
While the court will be the same size as all the other courts Liberty Hill has played on, the Alamodome offers a completely different atmosphere, which can throw players off if they let it, said senior Kaylie Potts.
“I know last year, we were really flustered. The back of the rim is really intimidating because when you shoot, all you see is people, so it’s so hard to focus on the rim and I think that’s something we all struggled with,” she said. “It’s a different atmosphere, but hopefully they can adjust. I think we’ll do fine.”
For senior Megan Huppee, last year’s loss was a little more painful for her than the rest of the team.
“Last year, I think we went into the game and had a bad experience. The overnight stay wasn’t as (good) as we wanted,” she said. “I had an abscessed tooth, so I was in a little pain, and I think we went into that game already in a bad state.”
The Lady Panthers know this is their second chance and are looking to make the most of it, Huppee added.
“This year, we’re looking to go into the game ready to go, sleep right, get excited,” she said. “I think this is just making us so happy to have a second chance to make something happen. It’s pretty great.”
After the excitement of winning the regional championship on Saturday, the Lady Panthers were back at practice Monday, preparing for the Lady Eagles.
“When you talk about Argyle, they are a very disciplined, well-coached team. They do things really well, they’ve got size,” said head coach Chris Lange, who will make his first appearance at the state tournament in his first year. “They are about 6 foot (height) average across the board.”
Argyle’s lone loss came on Dec. 5, in the championship of the Jack Frost Tournament in Georgetown against Cibolo Steel 43-39. The Lady Eagles have only allowed 50 points or more in just three games this season, but that won’t scare the Lady Panthers into a different style of play.
“When it comes down to it, we’re not going to do anything we haven’t done all year,” Lange said. “We might press this time or not this time, it’s still the same press, still the same offense, it’s just going to be, will it work or not? We’re going to find out. And if it doesn’t, we’ll make adjustments in the game to try and help us out to get us back in the game, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
Liberty Hill’s 36-3 record is certainly nothing to laugh at. Of the three losses, two were against larger schools (Harker Heights and Converse Judson), and the other was on the road.
“Those three losses were not happy losses. We lost those three by a total of eight points,” Lange pointed out. “The Brownwood game, it went down to the buzzer. We missed a shot at the buzzer to tie it. We lost another game by one. I just look at it as a great season. It was a great season. I can still go back and say we should have those three losses back though.”
Liberty Hill’s defense has also stifled opponents, with the Lady Panthers holding 34 teams to 50 points or less, and 10 of those teams to 20 points or less.
“I don’t want to look at it as a threat, but more of a challenge,” Huppee said. “We’re going to beat Argyle this time. They are obviously a good team, but so are we. I think it’s going to be a fun one to watch.”
This year’s team also has more tangibles than last year.
“I know Argyle is really tough competition, so I’m worried. I know some people on our team are like, ‘we’re going to win’, but I’m more the type that likes to not underestimate our opponent,” Potts said. “I think last year, we kind of shut down and only had one thing. I think this year we can bring more to the table. We do have (6’7” sophomore post) Sedona (Prince), and it’s amazing to have her on our team, but we can also have Kandyn (Faurie) on the drive and we have three-point shooters.”
House was confident that Liberty Hill’s defense will hold the Lady Eagles offense.
“I think we can shut it down pretty easily,” she said. “They do a lot of drives from the inside, so we’re going to try a more zone defense.”
Lange also has the belief that this year could turn out differently for Liberty Hill.
“I look at it as an opportunity to try and compete and try to win,” he added. “I feel like we have just as good a shot as anybody. There’s four of us left, so anybody can win it.”
Liberty Hill and Argyle will play the second 4A semifinal game Friday at 3 p.m. at the Alamodome in San Antonio.