Palestine's head girls basketball coach Nicole Anderson said her goal is to change the culture of the Ladycats basketball program.
Last year, she guided them to their first playoff win in over five years as a fourth seed. Now, through the first round of district play, Anderson has her team positioned to capture their first district championship since being placed in 4A.
The Ladycats were three points and a few missed opportunities from being undefeated through the first five games of their district schedule.
Since losing 53-50 against Carthage in their district opener, Palestine strung together four consecutive wins over Rusk, Center, Hudson and Jasper to conclude the first stretch of district games.
“We had to learn to win in practice,” Anderson said. “That's the change that has really taken place more effectively. We're competing in practice. We had to translate those practice habits into the game.”
There wasn't any hestitation from Anderson when asked if her team should be sitting at 5-0 in district. Mental breakdowns in what she calls “winning time” – the last two minutes of the game – were what led to their first district loss.
Three turnovers, fouls and missed free throws in the final minutes of that game allowed Carthage to snatch control of the contest.
The disappointing loss was used as a learning experience for a young Ladycat team whose rotation only consist of two seniors.
“We're learning how to play despite the adversity,” Anderson said. “Not playing passively with the lead, but playing to win instead of not to lose.”
With five games remaining until playoffs, Palestine has already surpassed their 2019-20 district win total (3).
It has been a new energy surrounding their program since their bi-district win over Jasper. But its the 51-49 area round loss to China Springs that has been the motivation behind Palestine's hot start.
Instead of feeling content they finally saw some postseason success, they left disappointed in their performance and felt their own mistakes caused a premature exit from the playoffs.
“That type of winning is what you take as a stepping stone to move you forward,” Anderson said about last year's bi-district win. “We talk quite a bit about advancing deep in the playoffs. We have the talent to do so. It's just a matter of how consistent are we going to be in our preparation and performance.”
The Ladycats have mutiple offensive weapons to deploy, but it starts with Ja'Mya Reeves and Ay'Lasia Fantroy. Fantroy is the team's leading scorer – averaging more than 20 points per game in district, while Reeves serves as the team's natural point guard.
“We have a core in place that are young and building,” Anderson said. “You can't beat that. Knowing we're changing mentalities. Knowing we're building a culture of excellence.”
“We finished fourth [last year] in a district that produced a state champion. That experience, learning from them and knowing what it takes watching them gives us an advantage. Still, you have to beat the state champs in order to be the state champs.”