Rio Sports Live

Lady Lions basketball ready to take next step

by Mark Molina | RSL

After stalling out in the second round four straight dating back to the 2015-16 season, the Santa Gertrudis Lady Lions finally broke through to the regional quarterfinals only to fall 56-54 to Aransas Pass.

Now, despite the COVID-19 stricken season, the Lady Lions have maintained their upward trajectory as they head into the postseason with a No. 15 state ranking and a share of the district and looking for more.

SGA head coach Alex Munoz said her team doing its part to not let the pandemic derail this campaign has made the current run all the more worthwhile.

“We’ve had a lot to look forward to this year coming back,” Munoz said. “(The players) always set their sights pretty high. With the COVID thing and everybody worrying about what was really going to happen and the way things have gone through, has been really special – giving our players the responsibility of knowing that they set the tone for our season.

“Knowing how important it was to them to do the right things to make sure we had a season because we knew what kind we wanted to have is super awesome for a coach. Now it’s not just me wanting it for them, it’s them who want it just as bad.”

The Lady Lions sit at 19-1 overall and 10-1 in district play, with their lone blemish coming in a 54-51 loss on the road to now No. 17 Bishop back on Dec. 15, 2020.

The loss wouldn’t go unanswered as the Lady Lions avenged the loss a month later in a 45-35 win over the Lady Badgers on their home court.

“At the beginning, it was a little rocky with our first loss of the season, but we grew as a team,” senior and four-year varsity letterman Azaria Sanchez said. “Our chemistry got better; our looks, our passes, everything’s falling into place, and we’re ready for playoffs. We have really come together and learned to perfect and correct our mistakes , which is what we were missing in the beginning.”

Even with very few early season bumps, fellow senior and four-year varsity letterwinner Elexis Morado said that growth and attention to detail is symbolic of the attitude and rapport the team has built this season, which she feels is what separates this year’s team from the three seasons before.

“At the beginning of the season, we had a different look in our eyes; we were hungrier than we usually were,” Morado said, who recently joined the career 1,000-point, 500-plus assist club. “I feel like this season we’re bonding a little bit more and our chemistry is getting better and better each game and we’re going to do something special in the playoffs. I think it’s the confidence from each player (that has made the biggest difference this year). Seeing them go from being freshmen to upperclassmen and gain confidence shooting the ball, being able to pass and playing better defense with all around confidence.”

The latter has been the calling card for the Lady Lions as their stifling defense had pounded opposing offenses into submission.

Saying that a team’s defense sets up the offense in basketball is as cliche of a saying as there may be in the sports world, but for the Lady Lions, it is almost as literal as it sounds.

“It really is all about our defense,” Morado said. “We really don’t like to set up plays because we kind of play at a faster pace. Our defense really turns into our offense. The past two or three years, our help side defense wasn’t the best and on our pressing we were a little bit slow on our rotations. But this year, our girls are quicker and are able to rotate faster. We see that backside or those little gaps or we’re able to play in between gaps more often than not.”

For Munoz, getting the team to buckle down has been a simple task.

While Morado and Sanchez talk about the team’s bond and cohesiveness as a unit, knowing each other’s tendencies while on the court has been just as much to thank for the team’s success on defense.

It’s come with years of repetition and now, the veterans’ grasp of the system has begun to bear fruit.

“Them knowing each other as well as they do definitely helps,” Munoz said. “We run a motion offense, yes, but most of the time our defense takes care of our offense for us. We are able to capitalize on that, but it’s definitely knowing the girls that can read the defense well and putting them in the right spot helped the girls who were kind of not 100 percent sure. It’s just really the knowledge of what we run and how. It’s been four years with some of those girls and they know the defense.”

Now, with the season ending a shade early for the Lady Lions, their sights are set on the postseason and breaking through to the regional tournament.

“We’re trying to get to the playoffs and go as far as possible,” Sanchez said. “We need to put 110 percent effort into every practice, work on our shots and do everything we can to prepare ourselves.”

For now, the Lady Lions are waiting for the postseason to get underway.

Munoz believes her team is ready for a magical run, but she is proceeding with caution as the postseason can be unpredictable.

“As a coach, you want to tell your team that you’re ready and you’re set,” the SGA coach said. “You want to build them up, but it’s the playoffs and anything can happen. It’s about making sure they keep their guard up because there’s never a team that we’re going to meet that is just okay and that it’s a win and don’t worry about it. They need to take each game as if it’s their last. It’s going to be a state of mind to put them in because you don’t know.”

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