Newman Smith

Newman Smith junior Jaida Shipp has helped lead the Lady Trojans to a playoff spot.

Despite having yet to play at full strength, the Newman Smith girls basketball team hasn’t slowed down during a commanding run through District 11-5A.

The Lady Trojans put the finishing touches on their regular season Tuesday with a 59-13 rout of Bryan Adams to close out their conference schedule at 15-1 — tied with Woodrow Wilson for the fewest losses in the league. The Lady Wildcats still have a make-up game remaining Monday against Hillcrest to create a potential tie for first place.

With the postseason beginning Thursday, Smith will be looking to improve on what it accomplished in 2020 — winning its first-ever playoff game under head coach Jason Samuels and advancing to the area round before falling to Frisco Centennial. 

“I think we’ve matured a lot and I think the shell shock of the playoffs won’t be there this time,” Samuels said. “I think they’ve really learned how to make stops as opposed to just try and outscore everybody. I think that philosophy will keep them in a lot of games.”

The Lady Trojans enter the playoffs having won 10 of their past 11 games — a rewarding stretch of consistency for Samuels, whose program had a tougher time developing a rhythm early in the season after a COVID-19 quarantine. With that came the loss of the majority of Smith’s preseason games.

Although the Lady Trojans rebounded to win their first five district contests, the absence of junior post Jaida Shipp doomed the squad in their first go-around with Wilson on Dec. 30 in a 52-34 loss. Smith has only lost one game since — a non-district bout with Trinity Christian-Addison sandwiched in the middle of 10 district victories.

“Overall, it’s just chemistry and what I tell them — the evolution of them growing and emerging as basketball players,” Samuels said. “That’s been the biggest area of improvement. We’re still extremely young — more than 60% of our team are sophomores and freshmen, so we’ll be able to grow and get better as we go along.”

Several of those underclassmen have shined alongside varsity fixtures like Shipp and senior Aydia Cobb. Samuels noted that sophomores Aniyah Kidane, Aniyah Bigam and Rakiyah Robertson have turned in strong years, while freshman Caylynn Wisner has impressed in a reserve role.

The head coach lauded the chemistry between Kidane and Bigam, who he nicknamed “Dory and Nemo.”

“Every time you saw them in the building, they were always together,” Samuels said. “The night we do our midnight madness tryout … they finished with a volleyball game and walked into the gym together around 11:30 and asked if they could try out. I had no idea who they were or what they could do but sure enough they came out and played gangbusters, and they were always together.”

The contributions have Smith rolling into the playoffs, winning 14 of its district matchups by an average of 30.8 points per game. That includes a 55-39 victory over Wilson on Jan. 29 to pull even in the district title race.

“This is my third year and that was, in my assessment, our first signature win since I’ve been here,” Samuels said. “I always feel like we’ve had the best talent in our district, but we just didn’t believe and had trouble getting over the hump. They beat us by 18 in the first game and everybody had this game marked down as a must-win. The ladies came out and played by far the best game I’ve seen from them at Smith.”

Earning at least a share of the district title for the first time since 2015, the Lady Trojans hope more success is in store for the postseason. Smith has only been to the area round three times since 2006 and hasn’t advanced to the regional quarterfinals since 1997.

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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