In what seems like an ongoing cycle, the TAPPS 4A state semifinal may not have played out exactly as Lutheran High North women’s basketball coach John Slomcheck might have pictured it, but the result was the same as it’s been since Dec. 19 – a victorious effort spurred on by the ability to adapt on the fly.
Friday morning, the Lady Lions (28-8) defeated Faith Academy (34-5) 61-50 in the TAPPS 4A Final Four semifinal at McMurry College in Abilene, clinching their second state title game berth in three years—though it didn’t come without some drama.
As always seems to be the case, the first half didn’t pan out as planned. Junior Post Alyce Fields got into some foul trouble in the first half, throwing a monkey wrench into LHN’s game plan and forcing the sixth-year head coach to take some unprecedented chances.
“They’re a smaller team, so I thought we could pound them in the middle, but our game plan was taken away a little bit because she picked up some early fouls,” Slomcheck said.
Forced to adapt his strategy on the fly, Slomcheck called for the switch to a zone defense – a rarity for those watching the Lions this season. With his post presence on the bench, he said the zone was a stopgap in attempts to simply stay within striking distance.
“I was thinking I could buy one or two minutes of confusion. We were just playing a numbers game — let’s not get into more foul trouble and get it to the half as fast as we can,” he said. “Get to full strength, regroup and go from there. We were fortunate enough to grab a couple rebounds and they missed a couple shots.”
So stark was the change that Slomcheck said star guard Amber Reyes almost couldn’t believe her ears.
“She was yelling at me on the court like ‘We’re in zone? We don’t run zone!’,” he said, laughing. “But you just do what you have to do.”
Heading to the 10-minute cooldown trailing just 29-27 felt like a win for Slomcheck given all that had transpired.
“I felt great because my best player (with my game plan) has barely been on the floor yet,” he said. “She had fresh legs, three more fouls and now we could go to work. She came in the second half and then just played fantastic — we were able to get back to the game plan we actually practiced, which is always nice.”
After allowing his players to vent, Slomcheck relayed a simple message to his team – trust the relationships and abilities which have carried them all season, from the rocky start to what is now a 17-game winning streak.
“We’re here together; we’ve played an awful first half and this is a ballgame. Let’s just rely on each other’s skills. More importantly, stop putting stress on yourself and just go have fun,” he said.
With renewed confidence and bounce in their step, the Lady Lions came out in full attack mode as the second half began, outscoring Faith Academy 18-13 in the frame to grab a three-point lead heading into the final quarter of play
“We went on a little run there at the start of the 3rd quarter. You could see the girls had a little more pep in their step, and that was good to see,” Slomcheck said.
The Lady Lions proceeded to continue the onslaught in the final stanza, outscoring Faith Academy 16-8 to seal their second state title game appearance in three years.
Slomcheck praised the team’s leaders for adapting mid-game and holding the group together through the frustrating first 16 minutes.
“We have great leadership on our team. To have six all-district first teamers is amazing, but we have five academic all-state kids on our team—they get it,” he said. “They understand it’s a 32-minute game and not a 16-minute game.”
Lutheran High North will gun for its first-ever girl’s basketball state title tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m., facing off opposite the Lubbock Trinity Christian Lions (22-12), and Slomcheck said his team remains as locked in as ever.
“They understand that now we’re still only halfway to where we want to be,” he said.