After claiming the second TAPPS state championship in program history last season, the John Paul II girls basketball team came back even better this year.
The Lady Cardinals polished off a 33-4 record on Feb. 24 with a commanding 65-48 victory over rival Bishop Lynch in the 6A state final. In defending its championship, John Paul closed the season on a 15-game winning streak, with only one of those contests decided by single digits.
The team's two-year reign atop the TAPPS hardwood has plenty to do with the growth of a veteran group of seniors, several of whom will go on to ply their craft at the next level. One of those standouts is senior Lydia Cooke-Wiggins, who earned all-state first-team honors as a junior and reprised her role as one of John Paul's steadiest weapons as a senior.
Cooke-Wiggins finished the season second on her team in scoring at 12.5 points per game — a balanced unit that saw all five starters average between 8.5-13 points per game — and will look to translate those talents to the college hardwood at Stephen F. Austin later this year.
In this week's student-athlete profile, Cooke-Wiggins reflects on the Lady Cardinals' championship season, her commitment to SFA, and more.
SLM: Congrats on winning state. Reflect on the finish to the game on Friday and how it felt finishing out your high school career as a state champion.
LC: It felt great being able to secure that win over Bishop Lynch, and it feels even better being able to say that I am a two-time state champion. All in all, it was a great end to my last high school season.
SLM: What was it like going through the season as the defending state champions and having that target on the team's back?
LC: Having that target on our backs throughout the entire season really put things into perspective for us as far as going out there on the court and performing. It made us work even harder to stay on top and to fight complacency.
SLM: What made this team so special to be a part of?
LC: I think what made the team so special to be a part of was the fact that anyone could learn anything from anyone on the team. It didn't matter if you played 28 minutes or played two minutes. Everyone could walk off the court and learn something from someone else.
SLM: How have you seen yourself grow as a basketball player throughout your time at John Paul II?
LC: I've seen myself grow a lot mentally. Obviously the higher you go the more your body will go through those physical changes.
However, I think I've grown a better side of optimism. Life goes further than basketball, and basketball has taught me to stay positive and take advantage of these moments.
SLM: You've still got plenty of basketball ahead at Stephen F. Austin. Think back to your recruitment, and what went into the decision to commit there?
LC: I chose to play with Fam Elite over the summer, and it was the best basketball decision I'd ever made. They treated me like family and coach Paye worked hard for us. When SFA offered me a scholarship and I went on my unofficial, I could tell they put lots of effort into it and that they were real with their responses to my questions.
Most importantly, I could see myself adding value and growing at their program — I fit in that program and that's why I committed there.
SLM: Over the course of your basketball career, what is your most memorable bucket?
LC: I think my most memorable bucket is probably the fast-break euro against Bishop Lynch last year in the semifinals. The crowd went absolutely crazy.
SLM: What will you miss most about high school basketball?
LC: I think I'll mostly miss the team. I've grown to know them and build a bond with them. I'll miss playing with them.
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