Atascocita Eagles hungry for district championship
If the second half of District 21-6A play goes anything like the first, the Atascocita girls basketball team will be celebrating their first outright district championship in three years next month.
The Eagles were 6-0 in district going into the final game of the first round.
“It really is exciting, but we’ve got to keep working every day, and that’s what I keep telling them,” coach Veronica Johnson said. “We have to keep working every day, and every time we win, that target on our back gets bigger and bigger.”
Their program’s been one of the area’s best for a while now.
Atascocita claimed an outright district title in 2015, the year before Johnson came from Cypress Falls, and they shared it three ways with Summer Creek and Conroe in her first year at the helm.
But they drew the third playoff seed that year, then slipped to third in district last season.
All that did was make the Eagles hungrier.
With every starter back from 2016-17, they opened with high expectations - and nothing’s deflated them.
“This group knew from the get-go they were going to be pretty good,” Johnson said. “Even last year, it was disappointing losing in the second round of playoffs, but right after that we got back in the gym and continued to work hard and get better.”
The third-year coach says chemistry, most notable in their defensive play, is the key to their success.
The Eagles were 18-8 overall and 6-0 in district through 26 games.
“They’re a great group of girls all together,” Johnson said. “They genuinely care about each other, on and off the court. We talk about family, and we start the majority of our practices in the middle, breaking as a family.”
They won the Fort Bend tournament as a family in November.
That impressive 5-0 stay included wins over Clements (97-52), Foster (60-33), Memorial (58-37) and Ridge Point (83-61), and culminated with a huge 66-54 win over Hightower in the championship game.
“It helped them realize they really are a good group of girls who can play, and play together, and we played some really good teams in the tournament,” Johnson said. “We played Hightower, who has a very good program and has always been successful, so to win that game against them was huge.”
The tourney title propelled them to a 3-0 district start before Christmas.
The big win there was a 51-46 win at North Shore - the reigning undefeated district champ - right before the break.
“We thrive on defense around here, and we stepped it up defensively and played well against them,” Johnson said. “We knew we wanted to be 3-0 going into Christmas break, and we knew we had a tough tournament in Dallas to go to right after Christmas, so we wanted to be on top going into the break.”
They struggled in their return from Christmas, going 1-3 at the Mansfield tourney.
But losses to Mansfield Timberview, Cypress Ranch and Mansfield Summit strengthened their resolve to dominate in district.
Through six district wins, their opponents managed only 30.8 points per game.
The Eagles held C.E. King to 23, including only four in the fourth, in a 46-23 win Tuesday, Jan. 9, at home.
They won their first six district games by an average of 22.2 points.
Johnson didn’t want to give away too much of their gameplan but said they’ve excelled at switching between man and zone defenses, depending on matchups, through consistent effort and intensity.
“We have one we thrive on the most, and that’s our man-to-man defense,” she said. “We like to play man. If anybody comes out and watches us play, we play quick, we play man-to-man defense and we like to score in transition.
“So we try to stay hungry on the defensive end for sure.”
They also press a lot, play tight man on the perimeter, with sophomore guard DeDe Davis leading the way, and rely on standout forwards Elyssa Coleman and Shamiya Klauser to protect the paint.
Coleman, a sophomore, is averaging 10 points and nine rebounds per contest.
“She’s 6-1, and she’s long, and she’s going to look to block when she can, and then Shamiya grabs the boards for us big time,” Johnson said.
Davis is their defensive leader outside and their leading scorer, averaging 15 ppg.
“She’s a kid who’s a basketball junkie,” Johnson said. “She’s always in the gym, she’s always trying to get better.
“She loves the big games, and she’s just one of those special players.”
Atascocita also relies on junior point guard Brittney Stafford (6.0 assists per game) and senior guard Dari Gabriel.
Together, they’re seeking their seventh playoff appearance in eight years.
The Eagles were slated to start the second half of district Tuesday, Jan. 16, with rival Kingwood.
They play at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19, at Channelview.
“We know people are going to scout us and try to do things they weren’t successful with in the first half, so we’ve got to make sure we continue to stick to our gameplan, whatever that gameplan is, game by game,” Johnson said.
Jason McDaniel is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coach: Veronica Johnson, third season
2016-17: 17-14 overall, 10-4 in District 21-6A
2017-18: District 21-6A member with Summer Creek, Kingwood, North Shore, Channelview, Baytown Sterling, C.E. King and Goose Creek Memorial.
Next up: The Eagles play at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19, at Channelview.
Key players: SG DeDe Davis, F Elyssa Coleman, F Shamiya Klauser, PG Brittney Stafford, G Dari Gabriel