When Lake Dallas girls basketball head coach Jordan Davis looks back on just what her Lady Falcons put together, she can only smile and think of just how far they have come.
Davis, who just concluded her first year at the school following the move from Flower Mound Marcus, met with the team before the year and asked them for their goals. Players said they wanted to win a district championship. They wanted to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Check on both of those.
They ended up sharing the District 8-5A crown and got the No. 1 seed for the postseason. They ended up making it to the Region I Tournament before falling to No. 1-ranked Amarillo – also the two-time defending state champion before Frisco Liberty won it all this year – in the semifinals, 52-34.
“My old high school coach at Valley View, Bobby Bates, he came by one day to talk to the girls,” Davis said. “He kind of just sat and watched for a little bit and he texted me Saturday and was like, ‘Whenever I saw that group that day I came and talked to them,’ he said, ‘I didn’t really know if they were a regional semifinal group.’ But he was like they’ve just grown so incredibly much, and he said, ‘You can really tell they’ve taken to what you guys have instilled.’”
But while Lake Dallas came out on top and was one of the final 16 standings in all of Class 5A in the loaded and talent-rich state of Texas, there were times the Lady Falcons could have given up, and who would have blamed a group of 15-18-year-old kids for succumbing to every tough situation thrown their way?
Before the year even began, sophomore point guard Mackenzie Buss — the 2019 Newcomer of the Year in the district — tore her ACL. That meant the coaching staff would have to readjust what they did, instead not having just one true point guard.
“When she went down, it’s like, ‘Hey, we’ve got four or five girls that can get a rebound and take the ball up the floor. Let’s just do that,’” Davis said. “And so, we started to focus a little bit more on that to where like if Dorian (Norris) got a rebound, she didn’t have find the point guard. She could just race up the floor as fast as she can. The same thing with Jorja (Elliott), Bailey (Broughton), Jo (Elliott), those guys. They had the freedom and the green light to do that, and I think that helped us kind of speed wise.”
Then other injuries and illnesses manifested themselves throughout the year. Sophomore forward Allie Buchanan got hurt in January and did not return until the bi-district championship win. Broughton and Jorja Elliott missed games with the flu.
None of that would get in the way, though, with Davis continually praising this team’s grit and saying this was the toughest team she ever coached.
“I haven’t coached a group like this in a long time, and even a couple of the groups at Celina that I had that were pretty talented,” Davis said. “We really weren’t down a whole lot, so these guys fighting through, fighting back, just being down but never really out. They just always responded to that challenge and just kind of their will and their want to do well and succeed is kind of what helped them through that process.”
And those words certainly rang true, up until the final buzzer sounded on a historic season for the Lady Falcons.
They stormed to some huge wins throughout the district slate. There was the 64-27 drubbing at Justin Northwest in the opener that showed just who they could be. They beat Denton Braswell. They beat The Colony – a team with some of the top college-bound seniors in the country in Tamia Jones (SMU) and Jewel Spear (Wake Forest) – twice.
“When we played The Colony here and beat them, I was kind of like, ‘OK, this is something that could be plausible. We can do this,’” Davis said. “We had some good games early in the season and everything, but the last few years I’ve been at Marcus we’ve pretty much played The Colony once or twice a year. Kind of just knowing them and the talent that they’ve had, so when we got that win that night I was like, ‘Okay, district champs is something we can do. These goals are very possible.”
The rest turned out to be history, with the Lake Dallas girls getting a share of that district title and then adding on to it with more trophies throughout the first two weeks of the postseason behind their overwhelming perseverance no matter the score or situation.
Despite going down by two points at halftime in the bi-district round against Azle, Lake Dallas stormed back to outscore Azle by 22 points in the second half to win by 20 points and secure its first playoff win in 12 years.
Down four in the area round with just over three minutes left versus Mansfield Legacy, Lake Dallas did what it always did: fight. Broughton – dealing with foul trouble and having just two points up to this point – checked back in and hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one point and deliver one of the biggest shots of the season to follow up her 16-point day the round before. Jorja Elliott then made the game-winning layup after a missed free throw, followed by a Legacy turnover and a basket from Norris to come out on top.
In the 50-43 win over Fort Worth Boswell in the regional quarterfinals, the Lady Falcons once again made the necessary plays down the stretch. After a missed free throw with them up five in the fourth, Norris chased grabbed the offensive rebound that led to a layup to put them up seven on a play that Davis said they likely do not win the game without.
“Like I’ve said several times, they’re just so gritty,” Davis said. “I know on Friday we kind of ran into a bit of a buzz saw in that first quarter (against Amarillo), but I don’t think we ever gave up. It was really pretty even after the first quarter, but I think they’re just, like you said, a gritty group that really just grinded and got after it.”
Lake Dallas will lose several key pieces from a senior class that helped build this program into one of the top 16 teams in 5A by year’s end. Josephine Elliott is gone after winning the 8-5A MVP award. Norris, a first team honoree, is heading to Texas A&M-Commerce. Laniyah Braxton brought an energy and basketball IQ that was key for the team. Amber Vinton did not see tons of playing time, but she was there every single day and doing whatever it took to guide the Lady Falcons in the right direction.
Lots of talent returns, including Buss, displaying just the bright future that lies ahead. Eight players are set to come back – all of which are currently freshmen and sophomores – with first-teamer Jorja Elliott having two more seasons of high school ball, Broughton making the all-district second team and two more sophomores – Buchanan and Najhaia McCoy – each making the honorable mention list.
“I’m very glad that those freshmen and sophomores that we have were able to experience that,” Davis said. “They see what those seniors did, and like how do we replace that? How can I do what those guys did to get us where we need to be? I think they can do it. I think they’ve got some drive and dedication. It’ll be a good core to come back with.”