High School Girls Basketball

Durnford, Smith ‘leave good’ on Falcons program

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 2/27/21

The Tompkins girls basketball program’s rise to its latest heights started with the ambition and diligence of two seniors.

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High School Girls Basketball

Durnford, Smith ‘leave good’ on Falcons program

Posted

The Tompkins girls basketball program’s rise to its latest heights started with the ambition and diligence of two seniors.

When they were sophomores two years ago, guard Crystal Smith and forward Kenzie Durnford, varsity players since their freshmen years, grew weary of the mediocrity that plagued the program their first two seasons.

“Crys and I were like, ‘We’re going to be here for a while, and we need to change something,’” Durnford said. “That’s when it started. Us two believed we needed to be a closer team if we wanted to be better, so chemistry was the No. 1 thing. It was a big deal for us from our sophomore year and on, doing more team-bonding and team dinners and no cliques and trying hard to get everyone on the same page.”

The culmination of that tireless step-by-step work produced arguably the finest season in program history. Tompkins fell in the Class 6A regional semifinals to Shadow Creek, 66-47, on Saturday at the Merrell Center, but what will stand longer is the legacy left by Smith and Durnford. That impact included 49 wins in the last two seasons, back-to-back undefeated district championships, and the first regional semifinal appearance since 2016.

“It’s their leadership,” coach Tamatha Ray said. “They came in their freshman year, not having a clue. Sophomore year, they figured things out a bit. It was the start of their junior year when that culture started to change. They took it, owned it and that’s what I’m most proud of.

“They could’ve continued with the status quo, and they wanted to do something different.”

In Smith’s and Durnford’s first two years on varsity, Tompkins won 30 total games and went a combined 10-14 in district play. The Falcons did not make the playoffs their sophomore season.

It was after that season that Smith started thinking about culture and what needed to be done to get things turned around.

Durnford and Smith—Durnford the strong, quiet, emotional leader, and Smith a vocal presence with a soft, gentle hand during critical moments—started demanding accountability and responsibility. Leadership was not a strength in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons at Tompkins. The last two seasons, it was.

“We set a standard very high,” Smith said. “Kenzie is one of the best leaders I’ve ever seen. Even on days I wasn’t up to it, she had my back, and I had hers when she wasn’t up to it. We just lead each other, and the younger ones see that and pick up on it. They’ll pick up on anything the older girls do, good or bad. So, we tried to leave our good every day.”

Against Shadow Creek (25-4), Tompkins (20-4) ran into a team complete with size, speed, shooting and more speed. The Falcons are known for their defense. But no matter what they threw at the Sharks’ offense, nothing worked.

“We couldn’t get our defenses going,” Ray said. “Shadow Creek is good. We threw it all at them and they picked us apart. They’re solid. We were slow on some stuff, I think we were kind of awed by the moment a little bit, and it mattered. You can’t be slow, and things have to be right, and we were just a little bit slow defensively.”

It didn’t help that sophomore wing Loghan Johnson, the team’s leading scorer, was gimpy after suffering an ugly ankle injury during the team’s regional quarterfinal win over Dulles three days earlier. Then Smith hurt her ankle badly with 3:17 left in the second quarter against Shadow Creek, enough to where Ray said she doubts that her floor leader played at 50 percent health the rest of the way.

Still, emblematic of the team’s culture, Smith, like Johnson had during the regional quarterfinal, gutted through the pain and continued fighting for her teammates. She finished with a team-high 16 points, the only Falcon in double-figure scoring.

“It took quite a bit out of me, but I was just trying to fight for my team at that point,” Smith said. “At the time, I was really more concerned about my team. It was painful, though.”

Shadow Creek dominated the glass, especially offensively as it earned many second-chance possessions consistently throughout the game and held Tompkins to one-and-done on the other end. Shadow Creek outrebounded Tompkins, 30-24. The Sharks, who had two players score in double-figures and three more score eight points each, made 6-of-14 3-pointers.

“They were knocking down shots,” Smith said. “You can’t get mad at that. We tried different defenses, and their guards were scoring and their posts were scoring. They were really good on the boards, and that really changed the game.”

The goal for Tompkins this season was to get past the area round of the playoffs, where it fell last year in a heartbreaker to Cy-Fair. The Falcons did that, and then they shocked No. 2 state-ranked Dulles the next game, 55-40, opening eyes around the Greater Houston area hoops scene with a demonstrative performance against a previously unbeaten team.

While plenty of tears were shed in the locker room after the Shadow Creek game, and even during the closing minutes of it, Ray made sure her players knew of all they had accomplished under adverse circumstances.

“I’m proud of them,” she said. “Regional semifinal, you know? It’ll end and hurt for one team and it happened to be us. You reflect back on the season and all they’ve been through since last March. We had no offseason (because of COVID-19), the pandemic, the social and racial injustice that was going on all summer long and where kids stood with that, and how you bring it all into a team situation and have it gel together. It was daunting. But that’s a testament to Kenzie and Crystal, in particular, and pulling their team together.”

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