Texas High School Girls Basketball

Cougars earn 1st playoff berth since ’15-16

By DENNIS SILVA II, Times Sports Editor
Posted 2/11/20

Coming into this season, Cinco Ranch girls basketball coach Dwayne Archangel thought he had a “top-2” team in District 19-6A. Archangel felt the Cougars had the depth, playmaking and experience necessary to not only make the playoffs, but potentially compete for a district title.

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Texas High School Girls Basketball

Cougars earn 1st playoff berth since ’15-16

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Coming into this season, Cinco Ranch girls basketball coach Dwayne Archangel thought he had a “top-2” team in District 19-6A. Archangel felt the Cougars had the depth, playmaking and experience necessary to not only make the playoffs, but potentially compete for a district title.

But then, just as what happened the previous two seasons, injuries hit. Badly.

Senior guard Catherine Hursh missed five district games with a concussion. Senior post Tori Huggins missed three games. Freshman guard Dani Williams missed three.

All are starters. And all Archangel could think about was how injuries had derailed his team’s chances each of the last two seasons.

“I was thinking, ‘Here we go,’” said Archangel, whose Cougars missed the playoffs by one game in each of those seasons. “Déjà vu.”

Fortunately for the Cougars, it was just that—a thought.

In a win-or-go-home game against Taylor in each team’s regular season finale on Feb. 11, Cinco Ranch demonstratively punched its ticket to the postseason for the first time since the 2015-16 season. The Cougars upended the Mustangs, 51-36, going from potentially missing the playoffs—again—to the third seed in 19-6A.

Cinco Ranch improved to 21-11 overall and prevented Taylor from a fourth straight playoff appearance.

“It’s a huge deal,” senior Taylor Rowland said. “Last year, it was a sad time for our team. To have us overcome that and say we actually made it to the playoffs is great for all of us.”

Cinco Ranch led 14-6 after the first quarter and never looked back. Taylor won the first district matchup between the two teams, 39-32, on Jan. 17, but Cinco Ranch was without Hursh, Williams and Huggins.

That trio combined for 28 points, with Hursh scoring a game-high 17, the second time around.

“We were 100 percent confident,” Hursh said. “Last time we played Taylor, we had a lot of girls injured, including myself. So, this g0-round, on our home court, we were expecting a win, and nothing less.”

Junior guard Abby Bala added 15 points. After she reached the 1,000-point career scoring mark on Jan. 28, Bala revealed her one true goal: do whatever she could to get her senior teammates to the playoffs for the first time.

Then she went out and proved it. Bala scored eight first-half points, and took advantage of Taylor’s zone and traps by hitting 3 of 5 3-pointers and finding open shooters with six assists.

In all, Cinco Ranch drilled 8 of 18 3-pointers, a 44.4 percent clip.

“We knew if we could just be patient, take the shots that are there, swing the ball, skip the ball … we’d get as many open looks as we want,” Archangel said. “Anytime our girls are making shots, they play so much more confident.”

Defensively, the Cougars adjusted, going to a matchup mix of zone and man after playing exclusively zone against Taylor in the first game.

It worked. The Mustangs missed 15 of 17 3-pointers and scored fewer than 10 points in two of four quarters.

“This was for the seniors,” Bala said. “I wanted to do what I could to get them to the playoffs. I didn’t want this to be their last game. It’s way too early.”

Experience and team chemistry got the Cougars over the hump.

When Archangel took over, the seniors were sophomores then. It was a young, raw team. It is that no longer.

Players also credited the Lake Travis tournament shortly after Christmas for providing a sense of togetherness. They played cards in the hotel room. They talked about basketball and life. They started playing for each other.

Hursh said that trip to Austin pulled the team together. Players agreed it made a difference when injuries could have devastated the season.

“We learned that, no matter what, you have to learn to persevere through adversity,” Bala said. “People will get hurt, things won’t go your way, and you have to figure it out. We did.”

As a result, the Cougars are still playing.

“I’m super stoked,” Hursh said. “We worked really hard. It’s excitement and nerves, but a good kind of nervous. I believe this team can take it far.”

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