Alexus Dukes said she never got used to the losing — just kind of numb to it.
For Angela DeLaney, it was more like frustration that grew with every loss.
After going 11-19 last year, including a deflating 3-11 finish in District 8-5A, Dukes and DeLaney knew they were going to have to step up if they wanted this year to be different.
And to this point they have, leading Harker Heights to a 5-2 start in 8-5A, good for second place at the halfway point in the district season.
Yet as good as the duo has been for the Lady Knights this season, the transformation began off the court this past offseason.
“We were focused,” said DeLaney, a senior. “From the jump, we were focused.”
A big reason is because DeLaney said she felt like losing focus is what caused the losses to pile up for the Lady Knights last season.
How else can you explain a team with DeLaney, Dukes and 8-5A Co-Offensive Player of the Year JaQuan Jackson — now playing at Louisiana Tech — finishing second to last in the district?
Dukes, a junior and the Lady Knights’ primary ballhandler this season, felt a degree of personal responsibility for the disappointing season.
“I feel like if I would’ve stepped up, and we would’ve all played as a team, we would’ve had a way better record last year,” Dukes said
While Dukes and DeLaney are putting up even better numbers this year, coach Shirretha Nelson said that the improved scoring was actually a reflection of Heights playing better as a team.
And the two agreed that the game has become easier as the Lady Knights have come together as a team this year.
“We nickel and dime them like (Nelson) always says,” DeLaney said matter-of-factly. “We get the people who need to score easy layups, and helping out, Dukes knows how to dish the ball to the right person at the right time. So, that happens and then whenever we’re open we shoot.”
Of course, it also helps to have each other on the floor, and the two All-8-5A second teamers from a year ago have a ton of trust in each other.
“If I’m not scoring I’m going to give it to Angela,” Dukes said. “I’m going to drive and I’m going to kick it to her because that’s how much confidence I have in her shot because I know her ability to shoot well.”
Now, the numb feeling of loss after loss and the frustration of close games getting away has been replaced with a new feeling for all of the Lady Knights.
“Every time we win a game, it’s kind of like the stress is gone,” said senior Brianna McGee, who DeLaney also praised. “It’s like, ‘OK, we did it. Now, we can keep on going.’
“We don’t have to be like last year, we can do better. It’s kind of fun now.”
And as difficult as last year was for Heights, returning players like Dukes and DeLaney are enjoying being part of the playoff race that much more this year.
“If you don’t lose, you can’t enjoy the wins,” Dukes said with a smile, “so I think that’s what it was.”
Contact Jordan Mason at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-501-7562