Consistency is a great quality for a basketball team to have, and Stephenville High School’s 2018-2019 Honeybees have shown that all season.
Coach Alan Thorpe’s District 7-4A championship squad is 23-7 overall and ranked No. 7 in the state in the Texas Girls Coaches Association Class 4A poll. They will kick off the playoffs on Monday, Feb. 11, with a bi-district contest against Krum, set for 7:30 p.m. at Weatherford High School. Also that night in the same gym, District 7-4A runner-up Glen Rose will face Decatur, starting at 6 in the first game of that doubleheader.
SHS Athletic Director Jerod Womack announced that ticket prices are $5 for adults and $3 for students, and one ticket will be good for both games. Stephenville fans will sit on the visitor’s side.
The Honeybees de-throned Glen Rose as the district champion, defeating the Lady Tigers twice on the way to a perfect 8-0 mark.
Thorpe prepared his players by scheduling an extremely tough non-district schedule against larger schools and some of the highest-ranked teams in the state. Those battles included their participation in the Whataburger Tournament in Fort Worth the final weekend of December.
“You (normally) have a lot of ups and downs, and we haven’t really had that this year,” Thorpe said. “Our defense was always good, and the kids always played hard. If any team will play hard, you’ll always have a chance and this team’s really consistent about playing hard every night out.”
The Honeybees have even had a few injuries, but remained steady as other players stepped up when needed.
Two key building blocks — 5-10 senior forward Jayci Morton and 5-11 sophomore post Alee McClendon — along with seniors Madison Gilder, Hannah Bernays, Kaylee Dahl, Autumn Nichols and Hanna Powell were joined by several players who were part of a remarkable junior varsity squad.
The SHS JV teams the past two seasons, coached by Kristi Mayes, had only one loss in the 2017-18 season and was unbeaten the year before that. Those players included Kassidy Nowak, Mikayla Diaz and Jettie Funderburgh.
Morton, who has signed to play basketball collegiately at Tarleton State University, first made her mark on the varsity as a sophomore when she earned all-state recognition.
McClendon was moved up from the JV during her freshman season last year, and immediately made a huge impact. This season, McClendon has improved her field goal shooting percentage to a remarkable degree, lifting it from 48 percent last season to 64 percent.
She leads the team in scoring average this season, with 10.4 points per game, and Morton is second at 9.6 points per outing.
Morton plays with intensity and, once she got past her injury woes she regained her explosive presence with a fearless approach taking the ball to the basket.
“Jayci plays hard all the time,” Thorpe said. “She’s going to go hard to the basket, go to the free throw line and she’s really good at the free throw line.
“She plays hard in the press, and it does inspire the other kids around (her). If you’re playing hard, you can demand that of the other kids.”
Morton said the Honeybees are “super excited” going into the playoffs.
“We have really high expectations for ourselves,” Morton said. “I think we have a lot of confidence in ourselves now, and we really have good team chemistry.”
McClendon leads the Honeybees in rebounding (7.4 per game), while Morton is second (6.2).
Thorpe said McClendon’s improvement this season can be attributed to hard work in the off-season.
“She worked hard in the summer, and it’s paid off for her,” he said. “You can tell she’s one of the more improved people on our team. Some people have a nose for the ball on rebounding. (With McClendon) it’s instinctive. She doesn’t think about it. She’s trying to get every rebound. She jumps so well, plus she’s strong.”
Two other players who have shown great improvement are Bernays, a 5-7 forward, and Gilder, a 5-5 guard. Bernays is third on the team in scoring average, with 8.3 points per contest. Gilder averages 6.2 points a game, just behind Nowak’s mark of 6.4. Nowak leads the team in steals, with 2.1 per game.
Nichols is a dangerous outside shooter, hitting a team-high 29 percent from 3-point range.
Thorpe has been pleasantly surprised with the team’s progress.
“We just had so much inexperience coming into this season,” Thorpe said. “We didn’t know how we were going to be. They just played so well that they got into the top 10 and held that most of the year.”
The Honeybees are still No. 7 in Class 4A in the Texas Girls Coaches Association, but are 11th in the Texas Girls Coaches Association’s rankings.
The veteran Thorpe has made the playoffs in 17 of his 19 seasons coaching the SHS girls, so he has coached all types of players and teams.
Thorpe’s enjoyment this season comes not only from seeing the team win so often, but also from having a group that gets along well on and off the court.
“I’ve had teams that were successful (and it) was a miserable season,” he said. “When you’re having success and it’s a great group of kids, it just makes it a joy to coach those kids.”
The winner of the game against Krum could end up being either Graham, Sweetwater or Snyder.
Krum’s Lady Bobcats (12-12 overall) were fourth in a stout District 8-4A alignment with a 2-5 record. They feature a 5-11 guard and a good post player who stands 5-10.
“They are very good. They are athletic, big and they play hard,” Thorpe said. “They would have done well in this district.
“We’re going to have to shoot the ball well, and we’re going to have to shoot our free throws because they will foul us.”