Lady Tigers look to take next step

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After missing the postseason for the first time in his tenure, head coach Anthony Branch looks forward to a bounce-back year on the hardwood for the Lady Tigers.

Although he only graduated Diari Dabney from last year’s squad, he’ll again only have one senior in Zoee Jeffrey. However, with her still on the sidelines with a back injury, he looks forward to some of his other returners to stepping up.

“Right now the leadership spots are up for grab, anyone can come in and do what needs to be done,” Branch said. “Someone that everyone can trust and someone everyone can follow and someone that’s going to not only talk the talk but they’re going to walk the walk.”

Luckily, plenty of underclassmen got meaningful reps during last year’s campaign and have been putting in the complementing work this offseason to continue to get better, a trend he looks forward to enforcing.

“Some kids I’m excited to see them see their work pay off, one I think of is a junior, Brylie Bond,” Branch said. “She did not miss hardly any strength and conditioning, she was here in the summertime, she got stronger. Montana Hicks, who’s going to have to play the point for us, she’s got all the characteristics; she’s tough-minded, she’s a go-getter, just getting her to believe in herself and get her confidence up, I’m excited about her.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what Avery Oliver does after a year on varsity,” the coach continued. “She’s excited about getting back into basketball; she’s going to have to be a big factor because at the end of the season when we won those three games in a row it was because she averaged a double-double with rebounds and points.

“Another kid that has spent a lot of time in the gym is sophomore Evelyn Harrington,” said Branch. “She wasn’t happy with her performance last year not only scoring-wise but also handling situations and that’s something I’ve talked to her quite a bit about, I know her dad’s been talking to her about it; how to handle the tough moments? Are you going to whine and complain or are you going to, what I say, do the NBA, the next best action?”

Altogether, he sees this group doing well if they can consistently improve on their play game in and game out.

“They’re a bunch of tremendous young ladies who enjoy being around each other, they’ll be a close-knit group I feel really good about the bond they’ll create as far as our culture and that’s before we can get to any winning,” Branch said. “Before we can get to get to where we want to get, we’ve really got to establish our culture. The culture will then take over and the kids will understand what it means and now they have to uphold it which one piece of it is, ‘Hey, I gotta go work on my game,’ and that means they’ll start showing up even after practice to work on their shot, taking care of their bodies as far as eating the right things, making sure they’re making good decisions out in public.”

Once the culture is established, the work will be cut out for Sealy with the rest of District 25-4A retaining many of the strengths that were flexed last year.

“El Campo, they lost five seniors but they’ve still got their point guard and a couple of other good athletes,” added Branch. “I think Fulshear’s going to be very tough, they didn’t graduate anybody, they’re all back and I’m sure they did what they needed to do this summer. Brookshire’s got some athletes even though they lost two, I’m sure there are some freshmen that’ll step up, they’ll be a tough team to beat. Wharton’s still got their really good player who can score at will. Those are going to be the tough teams and you’ve still got Stafford even though they graduated five of their best players they’ve still got some good athletes coming up.”

The focus will remain inward, however, with four key points Branch will be stressing this year.

“If we take care of us, I think some of the things that we have to do that are key to win some games is we’ve got to be a better defensive team,” he started. “We’ve been hammering away on our man defense, we’ve got to be a rebounding team that’s not going to give up offensive rebounds. We’ve got to be the team that takes care of the basketball, we can’t turn it over and we’ve got to be able to put the ball in the hole. Those are the four things that at the end of the year you’ll be able to see how good this team can be depending upon if we excel at those four things and do we improve on those four things from last year, the success will happen but we have to be able to guard people, block out people, we can’t give up turnovers and we’ve got to score.”

The Lady Tigers’ first opportunity at achieving those goals came earlier this week with Hempstead making the trip for the season’s tipoff Tuesday evening in Sealy.

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