Frisco Centennial vs. Frisco Liberty

Centennial senior Leila Patel reaches to swipe the ball from Liberty junior Jazzy Owens-Barnett during last year’s regional quarterfinal playoff game.

Last season was a memorable one for Frisco ISD girls basketball.

After being on the doorstep in 2019, Liberty broke through and captured the school district’s first-ever state basketball championship — closing out a momentous season with a 35-26 victory over San Antonio Veterans Memorial.

The Lady Redhawks weren’t alone during another stout postseason for FISD. Getting to regionals meant surviving a down-to-the-wire battle with rival Centennial in the regional quarterfinals, while Lone Star made its third straight trip to the regional tournament.

FISD recently tipped off its latest campaign on the hardwood — navigating an abbreviated preseason in the lead-up to the first night of District 9-5A action on Dec. 4. 

Here are some of the early storylines in what’s shaping up to be another competitive year in FISD girls basketball.

Next woman up

Central to Liberty’s state title run was the play of junior Jazzy Owens-Barnett. 

The reigning 9-5A MVP averaged 18 points per game during the postseason on her way to being named MVP of the state championship game but will begin her junior year on the sidelines after suffering a torn Achilles during the offseason.

Although head coach Ross Reedy’s squad certainly isn’t lacking in returning varsity experience — the title team graduated just one senior — much of Liberty’s identity centered around Owens-Barnett, who doubled as the team’s top scorer and playmaker.

As Owens-Barnett recovers from her injury, the Lady Redhawks will lean on returning starters like senior Maya Jain and junior Ashley Anderson to navigate through a challenging non-district schedule that has already included run-ins with Class 6A powerhouses Duncanville, South Grand Prairie and Arlington Martin.

The time is now

For all of the heroics mustered by Liberty during its playoff run, there had to be sentiments of what could have been emanating from Centennial. The Lady Titans played the eventual state champions closer than anyone all postseason, dropping a 32-31 verdict in the regional quarterfinals that Centennial was in position to win late.

Troubles at the free-throw line precluded the Lady Titans from advancing, but with four starters returning, they’re hopeful to take the next step this season.

“We feel like we’re really close. We feel like we’re doing the right thing and that we have the depth and the returners,” said Brad Blalock, Centennial head coach. “We’ve made gradual increases each and we feel like there’s some senior leadership that can get us over the hump this year.”

Centennial has already been dealt some early adversity with a two-week quarantine that cut into the team’s non-district schedule. Set to make their debut Friday against McKinney, the Lady Titans are led by two of the best in the district in seniors Madison Ott and Leila Patel, who are respectively committed to Clemson and George Washington.

Blalock will look to other seniors like Kobi LaCour, Payton Hand and Lauren Gressett to bolster the rotation as well, noting that he hopes to use an abbreviated preseason to help establish LaCour as a third scoring option next to his two stars.

Memorial leaning on junior captains

After not rostering any seniors in 2019-20, district runner-up Memorial is in a similar boat this season. 

Head coach Rochelle Vaughn is having to acclimate plenty of new faces to the varsity level but has the leadership of an accomplished junior class to steer the ship. Leading that group is junior Jasmyn Lott, an all-state performer who earned the district’s offensive MVP accolade.

Lott averaged nearly 20 points per game as a sophomore and can score like few players in the area, and Vaughn noted that she has made strides as a leader this season — something the coach partly attributes to having her younger sister, Falyn, on the team as just a freshman.

“She coaches her on the side if she doesn’t do something right and there’s a trickle-down effect where she’s helping other players a bit more,” Vaughn said. “She’s a quiet leader and does a great job fixing mistakes.”

Jasmyn Lott and fellow junior Jordan Conerly share captain duties along with junior Cammie McKinney, who transfers in from Hebron and offers Memorial another ball-handling option in the backcourt. 

Deck, DeVaughn lead new blood at Lone Star

Lone Star head coach Todd Monsey and the Lady Rangers were one point basket shy of securing a playoff rubber match with Liberty.

The second-year head coach still remembers plenty about that 43-41 loss to Midlothian in the regional semifinals and is hopeful that continued experience in close games will serve his team well this season.

The Lady Rangers have a district MVP candidate in junior Kyla Deck to help steer that ship, back after an all-state campaign of her own and one of just two returning starters for Lone Star. Sophomore Jordyn DeVaughn, last year’s 9-5A newcomer of the year, brings starting experience to the fold as well.

“It’s a great problem to have with regards to being so young. It allows our returners to mold and shape the program to what they want it to be,” Monsey said. “Kyla and Jordyn have taken that task on and have been vocal about the type of team we want to be. I hope our team is a representation of our leadership.”

As those two continue to develop, Monsey will also look for big minutes from John Paul II transfer and senior Kate Valle, as well as freshman Hannah Carr, whose sister, Halley, played four years for the Lady Rangers.

Potential contenders looming

For all the top-end talent 9-5A’s four playoff teams return this season, coaches are well aware of the parity that lies ahead in the all-Frisco district.

Despite missing out on the postseason, Reedy wasn’t off far from shaking the district’s status quo — suffering three losses to Lone Star and Centennial by three points or less last year. The Lady Lions have the rest of FISD’s attention but have to replace the production from three all-district performers. So far, sophomore Ainslee Padgett and junior Adrianna McCoy have impressed for Reedy.

One result that FISD coaches took notice of was Wakeland’s 41-31 victory over The Colony on Nov. 13. The Lady Wolverines only went 2-16 in district play last season and won just three games overall, but have made strides early on with a five-point loss to Class 6A program McKinney Boyd and a double-digit win over the Lady Cougars.

Elsewhere, Frisco already had a 46-point win under its belt early, riding a 15-point night from sophomore Mackenzie Townsel past Creekview.

“Top to bottom, I feel like Frisco ISD puts out the best girls basketball district in the region,” Monsey said.

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

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