ETSN.fm 2013-14 Girls Basketball Preview: Defending Champ Martin’s Mill Eyes Repeat + Lindale’s Size Unmatched in East Texas
Martin's Mill basketball and the girls state basketball teams have been synonymous over the better part of the last decade, but until last season the Lady Mustangs had not captured the ultimate prize of a state championship since 2008.
And their return to the top could not have been any more dramatic.
It started with a serious offseason injury to all-state guard Haily Jenkins and ended with a overcoming an 11-point deficit with less than four minutes remaining in the Class A Division I state final. Jenkins' running jumper with 13 seconds remaining capped the epic comeback and made champions out of the Lady Mustangs once again.
What will they do for an encore?
Head coach Doug Barncastle will be without Jenkins (now at McNeese State) and defensive specialist Taylor Munns, but he does welcome back the return of 6-1 forward Cheyenne Brown, who is looking to build upon her all-state sophomore campaign.
The road back to Austin may be difficult as the other three Region III tournament participants -- Slocum, Zavalla and Martinsville -- are also expected to contend for berths at state.
Slocum welcomes back all-state guard Valarie Larkin, Zavalla brings back center Caitlyn Lambert -- an all-state performer in her own right -- and Martinsville looks to build upon last season's 34-1 campaign.
In 1A Division II, defending state runner-up Saltillo will have some work to do in order to get back to Austin after losing last season's championship game MVP Victoria Stretcher. A lot will be on the shoulders of senior guard Kendall Bain, who enjoyed a solid 2013 state tournament.
You'd be hard-pressed to find another team in East Texas as strong in the low-post than Lindale -- a Class 4A regional quarterfinalist from a season ago. Twin towers Zhanelle Geathers (6-2) and ULM commit Natasha Malone (6-3) give the Lady Eagles a legitimate shot of reaching the regional tournament after falling one point shy in 2013.
Bullard has high hopes in Class 3A with the return of last season's 16-3A Newcomer of the Year Lexi Kirgan, while last year's Region II tournament participants Pittsburg and Liberty-Eylau are dealing with heavy losses from graduation.
East Texas may be the most deep in 2A where four teams are ranked in the preseason Texas Association of Basketball Coaches top 25 poll, led by No. 7 Alba-Golden, which fell to perennial power Brock in last year's Region II semifinals.