There may not be any guaranteed formula for having an outstanding basketball team, but veteran Stephenville girls coach Alan Thorpe has to like his odds this season.
All five starters for the Honeybees are returning from a 27-8 regional semifinalist squad last year.
That 2016-2017 unit was ranked 10th in the state when it was eliminated in the Region I-4A tournament semifinal round with a 57-47 loss to seventh-ranked Levelland. Thorpe’s Honeybees were 10-2 in District 8-4A.
Godley was the district champion, however, and will again be stout. Glen Rose as well as Midlothian Heritage will all present formidable obstacles to capturing the gold ball that goes to the eventual winner.
“People tend to think we’re the favorite … I don’t,” said Thorpe, who opened the regular season on Nov. 7 with a 70-20 home victory over Millsap, before Tuesday night’s road game at Granbury. “There are four teams (that I think are) pretty equal. I think the kids would love to bring home a district championship here, but it’s going to be a tough road to do it.”
Four seniors were lost to graduation, but the varsity could benefit from new blood — players who were on last year’s junior varsity team, which won all 28 of its games.
Among the five returning starters is 5-10 junior forward Jayci Morton, who is a TABC all-region selection and a TGCA all-state pick last season as a sophomore.
There are two other first-team all-district performers back this season — 5-8 senior forward Payton Wall, and 5-5 senior guard Jordan Carter.
The other two starters, 5-7 senior post Tess Baker and 5-6 senior guard Hailey Martin, were second-team all-district selections.
Madi Carter, Jordan Carter’s 5-5 sophomore sister, also returns after a season of being the team’s top role player off the bench.
Each of the top six players achieved academic all-district status.
Another senior, Kristen Pettit, didn’t play basketball last season but is back in the fold. Last week, 5-7 junior forward Hannah Bernays had her first day of practice after sitting out four months with a leg stress fracture.
Junior Madison Gilder, a 5-5 guard, and Mikayla Diaz, a 5-10 sophomore, could also provide support on the varsity. Gilder and Bernays were JV starters last season.
This season marks Thorpe’s 18th (in two separate stints) as the SHS girls head coach, and his Honeybees have made the playoffs 16 times.
“It’s really going to be the first time in a long time we have had all of it coming back. Since I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve ever returned five,” Thorpe said of the starting talent. “I think we’ll be better at what we did last year. We tried to push the ball, but we didn’t push it as much as I wanted to.”
Thorpe said he also believes the team will be more effective at applying pressure on defense, with good bench depth helping with that effort.
“We’ve got some kids coming off the bench that’ll be really quick. I think we can keep the pressure on,” he said. “We’ve had some fast teams, but I don’t know, overall, if we have had a team faster than this. Up and down the bench, we’re really quick.”
Two of the players who graduated were posts with good height, but this year after Morton at 5-10, the next tallest key performer is two inches shorter.
“Losing those will hurt us inside — (missing) their physcial play,” Thorpe said.
Outside shooting could be a strength for the Honeybees, with four players possessing 3-point shooting skills.
“If it’s a good shooting night for us, there’s no telling what these can do,” Thorpe said, noting that the Honeybees are working on their fundamentals, and also aim to improve their skills at blocking out because of their physical stature.
Thorpe’s best season with the Honeybees was in 2012-2013, when they reached the regional final only to lose to Kennedale by three points. Kennedale reached the state final that season. Last season marked the fifth time Thorpe has taken the SHS girls to the regional semifinals.
“We talked about getting back to where we were last year, and that’s what they want to do,” Thorpe said. “Our ultimate goal is to get to that state game. I feel like if we’re successful in the little goals, we can be successful in the big goals.”