Not a single starter remains from Lutheran High North’s state championship squad from two seasons ago.
But you wouldn’t know it from the Lady Lions’ 2018-19 results as they are once again close to scaling the mountain.
Lutheran High North (16-9) travels to Waco to take on undefeated Texas School for the Deaf (33-0) out of Austin – the top-ranked squad in TAPPS 4A entering the girls basketball playoffs – in a state semifinal scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday at Robinson High School. The winner advances to face either Lubbock Christian (29-11) or Lubbock Trinity Christian (28-11) in the championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday at West High School.
It marks the Lady Lions’ fourth trip to the state tournament in the past five seasons, but it’s still a special experience for the players. Only three of them – juniors Elena Martens and Tabitha Waiser and senior Savannah ReBeau – were part of the 2016-17 state-title team.
“I don’t really know what to expect,” junior Madeline Stephens said. “It’s nervousness, excitement all at the same time.”
The constant during LHN’s successful stretch has been coach John Slomcheck, who took over the program after a 9-14 season in 2010-11. He has guided the Lady Lions to 187 wins in his eight seasons, including five consecutive undefeated district championships.
“You have to adapt to the talent you have on your roster, because every team is different,” Slomcheck said. “The easiest team to stop is the one-dimensional team.”
No player on this year’s team averages more than 11 points per contest. But three players – ReBeau, Stephens and sophomore Kaitlin Alexander – average at least six rebounds per contest. Stephens leads the way with more than 11 per game.
Slomcheck said all three epitomize the Lady Lions’ mentality.
“They’re just athletes. They go get the basketball,” he said. “(Madeline) just has a motor. She’s a post, but she’s played minutes at guard for me. We just have a mentality that as soon as the ball goes up, we’re going to go get it. Hustle leads to more buckets. I knew we would have to scrap for everything we could get this year.”
Following a loss against Kinkaid School Jan. 8, the Lady Lions sat at 8-9 amidst a grueling schedule that saw them face 18 eventual playoff teams. The 2016-17 team faced a similar slate on its way to the title.
“It’s not by design, but I’m not necessarily interested in wins in November. I’m looking for momentum,” Slomcheck said. “We need to learn what we do well against that competition, to win when it matters.”
And win, the Lady Lions have. LHN reeled off six consecutive wins to end the regular season.
“At the beginning, we were just scratching for everything and trying to get to know each other,” junior guard Geonna Waddell said. “But we grew with each game. All the work we’ve put in paid off.”
The train hasn’t stopped in the postseason as the Lady Lions have run through John Paul II and Waco Reicher Catholic by a combined score of 140-98 in the first two rounds.
“That first game, we were kind of trying to get into the playoff groove, and that second night, everything just clicked for us,” Waddell said. “We play hard. We push teams. We don’t stop here. We’ve got to keep playing our game.”