Shut up and play.
There’s a new motto for the 2015-16 Ellison Lady Eagles basketball team.
Before this season started, 10-year head coach Sherry McKinnon introduced that motto to her players: Shut up and play.
“Coach McKinnon told us everybody else can talk but we’ll just keep to ourselves, shut up and play,” said junior forward Madison Hattix-Covington, Ellison’s top player. “So that’s our new motto: ‘Shut up and play.’ We like our new motto.”
But some things will remain the same under McKinnon, as they have for the past decade.
Making good grades in the classroom will always come first. On the basketball court, hustling, working hard, teamwork — and winning basketball games — will be stressed.
Friday night was important to Hattix-Covington and her teammates. Ellison was facing New Way Christian Academy at Copperas Cove High School as part of the Bush’s Chicken Classic Basketball Tournament.
Prior to the contest, McKinnon had a total of 199 career wins, all at Ellison.
“We wanted to get Coach her 200th win,” Hattix-Covington said.
McKinnon had actually forgotten about the milestone pregame.
“Honestly,” she said, “I was a nervous wreck because I was thinking about how we would stop this very strong scorer on New Way’s team. It had all my attention.”
As usual, McKinnon came up with the right defensive strategy, the Lady Eagles came through with a big game and prevailed 64-60.
“Then,” said McKinnon, “after the game, the emotion of it all did get to me.”
Copperas Cove head coach Eldridge McAdams grabbed the public address microphone and the game basketball.
“It was really special what Eldridge did for me,” McKinnon said. “He made an announcement to the crowd about the 200th win and he presented me with the basketball.”
And then, on Saturday, McKinnon got right back down to business. The Lady Eagles won the tournament championship game with a 54-50 victory over La Vega.
“Well,” said Hattix-Covington with a grin, “you can tell that our ‘Shut up and play’ motto is working.”
Ellison is 5-1 this season.
As for the basketball used in the 200th win, McKinnon said, “This is a special group of kids, so I had them all sign it. Getting to 200 wins means that I’m very blessed to be where I’m at. I’m privileged to do something that I love. Hard work has paid off. It was a very humbling moment for me.
“And our group of kids this year make a unique team. I’ve told them: ‘Since you are all on varsity, you should expect to play every game.’ And that’s how it’s been this season. They each are getting in all the games.”
Hattix-Covington, Gemma Alhambra, Naomi Burnette, Arriyanna Forch, Cielo McClain and Aujunnae Smith are returning varsity players. Feliziana Davis, Kianna Paige, Deija Planas and Anacia Simmons are new to the varsity team.
Under McKinnon’s guidance, Ellison has been to the playoffs seven consecutive years. The Lady Eagles have won a district title in three of the past five seasons.
Last year, Ellison finished second in District 12-6A.
“Second place means you lost,” McKinnon said. “That’s why this year it’s all about ‘Shut up and play.’ I had a rough year last year. So we’re just shutting up and playing. We’ll work hard in practice. We’re getting back to making sure defense is our main focus — that defense is at the very core of what we’re doing.”
McKinnon is one of very few basketball coaches that would call second place in a very talented district a “rough year.” But maybe that’s why she wins so often.
As for her 200th career win, McKinnon would prefer her high school not make any big deal out it.
But she’s getting overruled on that.
“Everybody at Ellison is thrilled for Sherry on her milestone, getting 200 career wins,” said Ellison principal David Dominguez. “We all love Sherry. We love everything she stands for. She’s not just a great basketball coach — although she certainly is a great coach — she instills the right kind of character in her players from practices to ballgames to the offseason. She always inspires her players to work hard. She makes sure academics come first. It really meant a lot to all of us that Sherry hit this milestone. And we’re excited about the next 200 wins, too. A milestone like this couldn’t happen to a more deserving person. Coach McKinnon is very humble and she won’t make a big deal out of this milestone herself. But we’ll be making a big deal out of it for her.”
But her players, no matter how much Ellison wins this season, won’t be able to make a big deal out of any win. Or, better put, they won’t be able to talk a lot about it.
But ... what if the Lady Eagles win the state title?
Hattix-Covington and McKinnon both laughed.
“If we do that,” said Hattix-Covington, “I think Coach will then let us do a bunch of talking.”
“Yes,” said McKinnon. “We might open up our mouths then. But there’s a long time until the state tournament begins. So that gives us plenty of time to just ... shut up and play.”