Seven Lakes coach Angela Spurlock knows people will inevitably compare this season’s team to the previous years. That will happen when a program is rich in tradition like Spurlock’s.
But the veteran coach stresses that, for her, each season and each team is a new one.
“Every year is a new team,” Spurlock said. “I know it’s hard for people to believe that, when you’ve been blessed to have a program that’s successful. People have a tendency to compare you to previous years. But technically, you put a new team on the floor every year, and this year it’s truly a new team and a new year.”
With players newly promoted to varsity, and players in new roles on varsity, the Spartans will lean on senior Bayli Bulawa, the lone senior on the roster, as a stabilizing presence.
Against Alief Taylor on Tuesday evening, Bulawa drove strong toward the basket in transition with 1:06 left, drawing the seventh team foul. She then calmly sank both free throws to give Seven Lakes a 36-34 lead. After a pair of Alief Taylor misses, the Lions were forced to foul her with 22.1 seconds left, and she sank another pair of free throws for Seven Lakes’ third win this season.
“I do have a routine, and it never changes,” Bulawa said. “In practice every day, the last five minutes, we put free throws in. So when I go up to that line at the end, I know I’m going to make them. There’s no doubt in my mind, and I think that’s what works for me.”
Spurlock acknowledged after the game that Bulawa is a calming, steady presence.
“Bayli is instrumental because she’s been here, and she’s done this,” she said. “She brings that element where she can calm people down, and she can get control of game situations like we had today, when we had to handle the tempo and handle the pressure. She’s a calm person in that situation, and it’s always nice to have an experienced player to do that.”
Bulawa’s free throws came after several Seven Lakes turnovers, and after the Spartans lost a 34-24 lead they held at the end of the third quarter. As the game wore on, Bulawa said she tried to take over and handle the ball more. She finished with a team-high 12 points, followed by juniors Daniela Alzate (8) and Ximena Diaz (6).
“We have a young team, and we have a lot of new girls,” Bulawa said. “So I knew I had to step up and let them know what it’s like to be on varsity. I’ve always been known for and having the reputation for composure, so I just kind of know that we have to calm it down, and slow it down with the game and with the ball.”
Spurlock said that while it’s never good to lose a lead, she attributed it to players trying too hard.
“They were tested within themselves and by Alief Taylor,” she said. “We wanted to win so bad, we played a little bit fast, and a little bit outside ourselves. But when we started to play within ourselves and what we wanted to do, you could see us settle and get back in the game. I’m proud of them.”
The Spartans currently have 10 healthy players on the varsity roster, with junior Addison Poth coming back from an injury, and Spurlock said they were all going to be played regularly.
“Everyone’s going to get the ball, and everyone’s going to get their minutes,” she said, adding that she would use practices to hopefully iron out some of the mistakes from the game versus Alief Taylor. “Our practices need to be harder than any game we play. To handle pressure in games like that, in my opinion, you have to put them in an environment in practice that’s harder than any game, or you’re going to get a performance where they make a lot of mistakes.”
Going forward, Spurlock said she wanted to see steady improvement, which she noted the team had demonstrated so far.
“I think you need games to work through things, but to me, games are like quizzes,” she said. “Tests are district. These are all quizzes, all these preseason games. And how you do on a quiz, it’s about the same as how you do in the classroom. Some of them are going to be pretty good and some are going to be pretty rough, and you have to learn from all of it, because the tests that count are coming.”