It’s not often that a complete overhaul produces instant fruit, but the Lutheran High North women’s basketball team has blasted through any barrier in their way thus far, and stand on the precipice of a historic season.
This Friday, Feb. 24 Lutheran High North (27-8) will tangle with Faith Academy (34-4) in the TAPPS 4A Final Four semifinal at McMurry College in Abilene, making it this far despite enduring the changing of a system which has produced four playoff appearances, two previous Final Four trips and a state title game appearance in 2014-2015 during head coach John Slomcheck’s time in the saddle.
“Our team has changed completely from last year,” Slomcheck said. “That’s kind of scary because we had success with our previous system, but when your roster changes so much you have to change your whole philosophy.”
The Lady Lions were up and down as the season began, sitting at 6-6 around Thanksgiving as Slomcheck worked feverishly to create a system which played to the strengths of his team – a learning curve in its own right. Not only did this season’s squad have different players, but fewer as well.
All that time Slomcheck spent studying film to adapt the team’s individual techniques to fit their structure and philosophy appears to have been worth the struggle, as the Lady Lions have since reeled off 21 wins in their last 23 games, including 16 in a row to reach this juncture.
“It took some time for some of those changes to sink in, especially for the girls who have been in the program for years,” Slomcheck said. “We went from a zone team to a pressing team, and we established a new offense and defense.”
“The team is pretty close knit, and that really does help you on the court,” said Slomcheck. “One night I got a picture from them around midnight; they were at IHOP all you can eat pancakes, which I did not approve of. But you just see the smiles on their face and that they just generally enjoy hanging around each other.”
Win or lose the team knows that they can count on each other to be there for support. Guard Amber Reyes says that the team works well together due to an inseparable bond and willingness to be the “next man up.”
“In our last game when a lot of people got in foul trouble, our whole team stepped up and played their hardest,” she said.
However, the LHN basketball team has more than just each other to look to for support.
“Our school is a big family and they are always really loud at our games,” Reyes said. “For our next game they’re going to play the game on the big screen in the courtyard and pause class to have everyone come and watch it.”
With the entire school behind them, the Lady Lions stand ready to roar and clear the final hurdle in pursuit of their first-ever state title, which narrowly eluded them two years ago in a loss to Lubbock Christian in the TAPPS 3A state title game.
“We have a very strong chance of taking this all the way home,” guard Sable Barnes said. “I think our chances are really good this year, because we have a new team where we can build off each other, and we have a great coach and a new assistant coach.”
Faith Academy, however, is obviously no slouch, and Slomcheck said it’s a shame one team must lose when the two titans clash–and he knows too well the pain of coming up just short.
“It’s hard sometimes, because all the teams are playing for one championship and only one team is going to walk away with it,” he said. “It’s hard because you see the crying in the locker room, and you genuinely care for those kids, but when you step back and see your accomplishments, it’s all worth it. You have to be good at winning and good at losing, but of course you plan to win.”
“I’m excited for the kids and excited for the school,” the sixth-year head coach added. “We’ve been under the radar because of our size, but I’m telling you, I feel that I work in the best private school in Texas, and I mean that one thousand percent. It’s an honor to work here.”