Before she even made the promise, Lori Shead started making good on it.
Before the first-year Shoemaker Lady Grey Wolves basketball coach explained to her team she wanted “to build a program that was going to be consistently successful,” she made them run cross country.
“Cross country’s one of those sports where you really have to dig down deep ... and you have decide, ‘Are you truly a competitor?’ Because after running three miles, do you really want to put forth that extra effort to catch that girl in front of you even though you’re dadgum tired,” Shead said.
So, when the team arrived Wednesday for the first day of organized girls basketball practice allowed by the UIL, Shead already knew what she had. Most of the players had been running before school at 6:45 a.m. since early August.
“So, today, walking into the gym, they did the things that I expected in regards to certain skills that I was looking for,” Shead said. “I knew that, coming in, I was going to have to find all of our strengths — as any coach would — and turn those all into an advantageous strategy. I’m not disappointed at all with what I saw today.”
Shead spent 19 of last 21 years serving as a head coach of various sports and is entering her 10th year as a head basketball coach. Before taking over for former Lady Grey Wolves coach Shauna Showers, Shead spent two seasons as an assistant coach at A&M Consolidated.
Showers stepped down last year when James Showers, her husband and a former offensive and defensive coordinator at Shoemaker, accepted the head football coach positition at Aldine Davis Senior High School in February.
“I am a very strong competitor, and I pride myself on being able to get kids to be strong competitors as well. So, we focussed on going up and for them to understand that there is nothing for them to fear when they walk into the gym facing any opponent at any time,” Shead said. “They have the potential to achieve things just as much as, if not morso, than everybody else because they’re hungry.”
Other new kids on the block
Also new to District 8-5A are Killeen and Waco Midway.
The former 8-4A rivals were moved up a classification into Class 5A in February to further crowd the top of an already top-heavy district featuring playoff returners Copperas Cove, Ellison, Harker Heights and Temple.
“I think it’s exciting,” said Lady Roos coach Latisha Williams. “I think it’s an opportunity for the girls to prove that they belong in 5A and I’m hoping, I’m planning to actually do pretty well.”
While Ellison and Harker Heights had the longest playoff runs most recently — the Lady Knights have reached the regional quarterfinals the last two seasons, and the Lady Eagles reached the regional semifinals two years ago — Killeen has made seven straight playoff appearances. The Lady Roos, though, haven’t faired well against the local teams in recent years.
“I think the girls are definitely going to take it more seriously, not that they haven’t before, but the consequences of losing are far greater,” Williams said. “And they’re used to, when district comes around, winning. I really hope that plays a part in it because we haven’t been, in the last couple of years, successful against the local teams.”
The additions of Killeen and Midway only serve to strengthen an already deep district, according to Copperas Cove head coach Teresa Durham, who is working to get her young team prepared for varsity competition.
“We are working real hard on learning different game situations to try and get some of our younger kids use to playing at that level,” the coach said. “Our district is going to be pretty sound all the way through, so there are no easy games.
“We are going to have to be consistent. That is one of the things I really harp on our kids about is being intense in everything you do and, then, being consistent day in and day out.”
A new district power?
Few teams have ever been as successful, locally, as last year’s Lady Knights team.
Harker Heights posted a school-record 35 wins last season and only lost twice, once to Temple in district and a season-ending loss to Garland Sachse in the Region II-5A quarterfinals. But, the Lady Knights lost three multi-year starters — Brianna Golden, Shanice Davis and 6-foot-1 post Eboniey Jeter — but return JaQuan Jackson, Alexus Dukes and 6-1 senior post Brianna Freeman.
“It’s bittersweet because, of course, we lost a lot of kids that have played for me on the varsity level, so it’s odd to walk in the gym and not see those kids,” Heights coach Shirretha Nelson said. “But in the same aspect, it’s also nice that we get to reestablish and rebuild and work at those things again to hopefully get to that level of play again.”
Freeman, the District 12-5A offensive MVP last season, underwent her second ACL knee surgury in six months in September and may miss the Lady Knights’ entire season.
“It’s been hard. We were kind of hoping for things that didn’t quite happen, and there were other hurdles popping up with kids we thought were going to play that aren’t quite going to make it back, for whatever the reason,” Nelson said. “But despite all that, I still see a lot of potential.”