As soon as the clock ran out on her junior season, Erin Sims went to work.
Lorena had just dropped a heartbreaking 47-43 decision to Fairfield in the Class 3A Region III final, and Sims couldn’t hide her disappointment.
She made a vow that a similar finish wouldn’t happen as a senior. Her team was going to get to Austin.
As it turns out, the responsibility of getting the Lady Leopards there fell squarely on her shoulders.
This year, Lorena led Madisonville by two points with seven seconds left when Sims was fouled and sent to the free-throw line.
She drilled them both, capping the Lady Leopards’ 49-45 win.
“She was definitely one of the ones we’d want at the free-throw line, but I thought it was appropriate because of the time she had put in, what kind of regional tournament she had, and it was even more appropriate that she made them both that iced it for us and got us to Austin,” Lorena coach Rodney Gee said.
The free throws were just the capper to a phenomenal two days for Sims at the regional tournament, where she scored 42 points and pulled down 31 rebounds to take away MVP honors.
Now Sims can add another, as she’s been selected as the Super Centex Player of the Year.
“It’s extremely huge,” Sims said of the award. “There are so many awesome players that I can think of that worked just as hard and are as good of athletes as I am. But I did work hard for it. I put in countless hours, but it’s a huge honor because there are so many athletes in the Waco area.”
Before Sims could help her team as a senior, however, she set out to improve her game as an individual.
She played all summer and decided against playing for a Lorena volleyball team that had its own state aspirations, putting all of her focus on basketball.
It paid off in a big way.
One of Lorena’s favorite plays involved Sims taking a handoff at the free-throw line and going strong to the basket.
The play was in the book during her junior year as well, but Sims handled it with much greater ease as a senior.
“I really thought I got better at attacking from the high post,” Sims said. “I was really in that comfort zone. . . . Coach Gee would tell me to work on this or we have this in the book for you. So I’d just work on it and be the best player I could be. Then when the rest of the team came along, it was all about being a better teammate.”
The Lady Leopards dropped their state semifinal game to Celina, but Sims heads off to play for Tarleton State with her head held high.
“I get the chills thinking about (the season),” Sims said. “It’s going to be something that’s really cool to look back on. It was a great group of girls and great memories. It was my best friends out there that I was playing with, and it was the best time of my life. I loved every second of it.”
Coach of the Year:
Rodney Gee Lorena
Before heading to Huntsville for the Class 3A Region III tournament, Rodney Gee channeled former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips.
“Last year we got down here and knocked on the door. This year we want to kick the thing in,” Gee said.
That’s exactly what the Lady Leopards did, knocking off Giddings and Madisonville to erase the painful memories of a regional final loss to Fairfield the year before.
For taking Lorena to its first-ever state tournament, Rodney Gee is this year’s choice as the Super Centex Coach of the Year.
With nine seniors on the roster and having been so close the year before, everybody knew what the expectations were.
But after the first practice, reaching Austin wasn’t brought up again until the Lady Leopards were preparing for regionals. Instead, the focus was always on what they needed to do to get there.
“We talked about getting better every day, and to our kids’ credit, they did a really good job of that, just trying to get better every single day, every single game,” Gee said. “Obviously there were ups and downs, and you’re going to have that at any level.”
The lowest point was a district-opening loss to La Vega, but that only served to refocus the Lady Leopards. They didn’t lose another contest, other than a warm-up game, until the state semifinals.
Gee credits all of Lorena’s success this season to the players, and he had a group of seniors, led by Super Centex Player of the Year Erin Sims and first-team selection Katie Sampson, that he’ll never forget. After all, it was his first chance to coach at the state tournament.
“I’ve been going to the state tournament for many years and to get a chance to coach there was special,” Gee said. “Those kids deserved every second we had and experiencing that. . . . I’ve been doing this a long time too, and you’re going to have groups that are really good, probably not to that level. That’s as good of a senior class as I’ve coached, by far.”
Newcomer of the Year:
Erin DeGrate La Vega
Even beginning the season as a 14-year-old, Erin DeGrate stood out in a crowd.
It didn’t take long to become clear that if the 6-foot-4 freshman decided she wanted to take over a game, there wasn’t much opponents could do to stop her.
“I knew she was going to be good, but I didn’t expect for her to be as good as she was,” La Vega coach Amy Gillum said. “I thought after a year, I’m going to expect a lot, but her footwork was pretty good, she’s got great hands, she was aggressive, and people didn’t really push her around. So I was really impressed with as a freshman how much she helped us and how much we relied on her.”
DeGrate posted a double-double in her first game in a win over defending regional champion Fairfield, and things just took off from there.
She scored as many as 30 points in a pair of games and recorded a mesmerizing 31 rebounds against Mexia.
All told, DeGrate finished the season with averages of 16.6 points and 16.8 rebounds to go along with 3.4 blocked shots.
Those eye-popping numbers were good enough to earn her the Super Centex Newcomer of the Year award.
As strong of a season as DeGrate had, the true measure of her value came when she missed five games at the end of the year with a knee injury. The Lady Pirates lost all five and just missed out on a playoff spot.
“Nobody could step in and fill her shoes because those are big shoes to fill,” Gillum said.
Gillum can’t wait to see where DeGrate will be in three years. If DeGrate can improve her game, La Vega boys’ coach Clay Cody believes every Division I school will come calling for her.
“After this year, I really do believe that, too,” Gillum said.
|G||Armoni Pittman||Jr||5-5||Waco High|
Player of the Year: Erin Sims, Lorena
Newcomer of the Year: Erin DeGrate, La Vega
Coach of the Year: Rodney Gee, Lorena
|G||Re’Elle Miller||Jr||5-6||China Spring|
|F||Diamond Ervin||So||5-10||Waco High|
Guards: Maggie Hawkins and Jordan Oliver, Bruceville-Eddy; Timanisha Holbert, Bynum; Marissa Martin, China Spring; Halie Applegate and Dakota Mayr, Clifton; Ashley Robinson, Connally; Ana Olvera, Cranfills Gap; Kadee Bowling and Patricia Garcia, Frost; Nakaila Banks, Dallas Fletcher, Pepci Jones and Kate Saucke, Hubbard; Kasie Olivarri, Meridian; Bre Stoner, Mexia; Kandace Byrd, Midway; Kylie Bennett, Morgan Edwards, Elizabeth Loredo and McKenzie Lowery, Riesel; Madison Watson, Teague; Kristan Veteto, Valley Mills; Brooke Townley, Walnut Springs
Forwards: Shelby Friudenberg, Bruceville-Eddy; Maggie Wright, Evant; Morgan Lane and Meridith McClinton, Hubbard; Shakota Billman, Walnut Springs
Posts: Chelsea Lett, Aquilla; MacKenzie Kroll, Axtell; Jessica Armstrong, Bynum; Victoria Kuykendall, Chilton; Briana Lina, Lorena; Ashley Johnson, Mexia; Claudia Escamilla, Morgan; Ashton Dunlap and Ashley Hickerson, Rie-sel; Kyera Abraham, Teague; Sarah Balch, Valley Mills
One of area’s top passers racked up 6.4 assists per game to go with 17.3 points, named 16-2A MVP
Steady hand in Lady Pirates’ backcourt had solid numbers across the board, earned TGCA all-state honors
Jr, Waco High
Super-quick point guard a terror on both ends of floor with 14.3 points and 4.3 steals per outing
District 16-2A defensive MVP also put in 14 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per outing for playoff team
Indispensable part of state tourney team set up offense in addition to being one of area’s top defenders
Dominated at highest level, earning 12-5A co-MVP nod after racking up 14 points, 9.3 rebounds per contest
Double-double performer scored 21.4 points, picked off 10.7 boards, named 16-1A Division I offensive MVP