On the scoreboard, it’s been business as usual for the state-ranked McKinney North girls basketball team.
The Lady Bulldogs entered the week at 13-4 overall — a mark that improved on Tuesday with a 47-40 over district rival Princeton to keep the team in the hunt for the District 10-5A championship. North is hot on the heels of state-ranked Wylie East, which bested North in a narrow 53-50 verdict on Jan. 8.
The Lady Bulldogs have steadied their ship despite an abrupt change in personnel with senior Amaria Fields no longer with the team. Head coach Veronica Reed-Hamilton declined comment regarding Fields’ exit from the program, as North now looks to make a district title push without its leading scorer and most experienced player at the helm.
“It definitely takes down our depth, but I’ve been one to preach to our kids and emphasize being ready when your number is called,” Reed-Hamilton said. “Considering our youth, those kids have been very resilient. “I’m proud of the way they’ve stepped up and I think this adversity has really pulled them together.”
Fields, a Boston College signee, had averaged 25.4 points per game on the season — 14 more than the next-closest Lady Bulldog. The two-time Star Local Media all-area selection added 5.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals.
It’s a significant loss for North, Reed-Hamilton said, but one she thinks the program can overcome by committee.
“While it did affect our depth, it didn’t impact their goals. They know what they have to do,” Reed-Hamilton said. “It obviously leaves a big hole, and we hope to have several players step up to fill those roles. I don’t think it’ll be one but several.”
Compounding matters was an injury to junior Yarnia Evans, who held down point guard duties for North. That put the Lady Bulldogs in a tough spot leading into their high-profile battle with East — starting three freshmen in Kaelyn Hamilton, Ciara Harris and Cheyenne Wooten, as well as junior Jayden Smallwood, who had just returned from an injury of her own.
“We just have to go with what we have. I think out kids’ spirits are up, they’ve bonded as a team and I think we’re playing well considering the circumstances,” Reed-Hamilton said.
The personnel shift means a greater uptick in responsibility for North’s three freshmen, who are already the team’s second-, third- and fifth-leading scorers. Hamilton, Harris and Wooten combined for 40 of the team’s 50 points against East and 24 of its 47 points against Princeton.
“They’ve been great. I played Kaelyn from one through five. She was a two against Wylie, guarded posts and then ran the point for us against Princeton,” Reed-Hamilton said. “They know that they’re going to have to be able to play where they’re needed, and that’s how we practice.”
Smallwood has given the Lady Bulldogs a lift with 8.5 points across the two district ballgames, including 10 against Princeton — a game North led after three quarters, 41-21.
“It felt really good. We had Jayden Smallwood, who’s just in her third game after being out with a fracture,” Reed-Hamilton said. “She kicked in 10 points and a couple assists and gave us some really good minutes, Kaelyn, Ciara and Cheyenne did their usual with getting in there and making things happen.
“We had Alexia Catchings come off the bench with some good minutes and knock down some clutch baskets. They’re in sync, they trust me and I think this has brought them closer and they’re now more determined.”
The Lady Bulldogs will get another crack at East in the team’s regular-season finale on Feb. 2, looking to keep pace in the standings beforehand. North continues its district campaign at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday on the road against Prosper Rock Hill.