Lady Panthers fall one shy of state title
By Lauren Jette
SAN ANTONIO — In a second consecutive trip to the UIL State Basketball Tournament in San Antonio, the Lady Panthers couldn’t shut down defending state champion Argyle, losing 43-32 on Friday.
“The problem with Argyle is if you give them opportunities to put you away, they are going to put you away,” said first-year head coach Chris Lange.
“You can’t make little mistakes, you can’t let them get that gap and they ended up getting a little bit of a gap and it was difficult to overcome.”
The Lady Eagles got the first basket of the game and never relinquished the lead, building a 12-4 lead after the first quarter.
Liberty Hill’s defense forced several turnovers, which is uncharacteristic from Argyle, but only managed to turn those into five points.
“We didn’t mix it up as much as I’d like to, but what we did was try to put pressure on them the entire time,” Lange said. “We’re quick, we’re aggressive, so we kept trying to try and force them to make (mistakes) even if you give up something once in a while, just keep pushing, keep pushing, get up in their face. I think that was enough to cause some frustration.”
Frustration might have been felt by the Lady Eagles, but it wasn’t enough to throw them completely off their game.
Argyle’s leading scorer, Vivian Gray shrugged off defenders for 17 points and 6 rebounds in the win.
“We rotated to her, we got some pressure on her, but she’s very strong with the ball and did a real good job. They handled it,” Lange said.
The Lady Eagles went on to win another state championship, defeating Waco La Vega for the title on Saturday.
In Lange’s first year as head coach at Liberty Hill, he lead the Lady Panthers back to the state tournament after winning a district championship while only losing four games in the season. In a press conference after the game last Friday, he said the team deserved all the credit for a successful season.
“I think it’s a credit to all the girls. Every one of these girls showed up,” he said. “When I first got the job, I opened the gym and last year they didn’t have open gym, or they had it a few times, and this year, I opened the gym up. When I walked in there, I sat down and said, ‘play, have fun, no music, work on your man defense’ and that’s what they did. They just got in there and played.
“We started with 10, 11 and before long it was 20, 22, playing full court and that’s where that team camaraderie started to build.
“It’s about them,” he added. “I’m just the one that got to stand up there and pace the court, but really, they are so coachable, they work so hard. It’s a credit to what Matt Kirschner did last year and themselves. They don’t quit. We lost four games this year and that’s nothing to be upset about or cry about. Yeah, we’re one game short of where we wanted to be, but I am so proud of them.”
Seniors Amanda Boliek, Megan Huppee and Autumn Lange accompanied Lange in the post-game press conference. Emotions were understandably running high with the end of the game and medal presentation just minutes before, but the girls and their coach managed some smiles and laughs.
“It was just overwhelming. I don’t even know,” Autumn said when asked about what this experience was like this year.
“Compare it to last year,” Coach and father Chris Lange said.
“I got to play with my dad this year. He’s my coach, so that was an experience to remember.
“I actually played this year, so that was a lot different,” she finished with a laugh.
More laughs ensued when talking about Gray and how good of a player she was.
“She’s just amazing. I feel like she just makes her offense flow together well. She’s a good leader. She can dribble, she can shoot, she can play defense,” Autumn said. “She’s pretty much good all around. I want her on my team.”
“I wouldn’t trade any of mine,” Lange interjected with a laugh, which made all three girls “aww.”
Although the outcome from this year’s trip was the same as 2015, Huppee said she enjoyed this season and team more.
“I hope we’re remembered, especially with this being our first year with Coach Lange and being able to say we made it to the state tournament and making it better than last year,” she said.
“I feel better about it this year than I did last year. The way we ended this season, I know we always kept our heads up. This year, our support from our fans and our whole bench, our whole team was more of a family this year and I’m happy to say that we were able to make it here.”
While nine seniors played their final game for Liberty Hill, the foundation has been set for Lady Panther basketball and an expectation set for younger players coming up in the program.
“I think that we set a good basis for them,” Boliek said. “I think that this gave them a lot of experience and I think that they have a great chance of coming back next year and we have the utmost hope for them We hope that they do that.”