Before Chanice Smith applied for the job opening of The Colony head girls basketball coach, one person that she asked about the program was one of her mentors.
Smith had enjoyed plenty of success, both as a player and coach. She helped to lead Mansfield Timberview to the 2010 state final in only the school’s fifth year of basketball and then finished her collegiate career as one of the top 20 scorers in program history at Sam Houston State. Smith was hired as an assistant coach after leaving college, including with Hebron head coach Lisa Branch, who has led a massive turnaround with the Lady Hawks posting five winning seasons since she took over in 2017.
Branch and Smith had history prior to their time coaching at Hebron. Smith played for Branch in high school when the latter served as an assistant coach at Timberview. And when the job as head coach at The Colony came open after Lindsey Pouncy departed for the same position with Justin Northwest, Smith gave Branch a call.
“It's actually funny because I was her varsity assistant before Pouncy and Pouncy took the job here,” Smith said. “Coach Branch just kept telling me, 'Man, if you would have stayed here one more year, you would have had that head coaching job at TC.' I said, 'It just wasn't the time.'"
Smith landed her first head coaching job in 2020 with Corpus Christi Miller. It was a successful stint as she led the Pirates to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 2010, but despite all of that success, Smith became homesick and wanted to move back to the Metroplex.
“When I got the phone call from (The Colony head volleyball coach) Rachel Buckley, we actually worked together at Hebron and asked if I would take it, it was a 'no-brainer,’” Smith said. “I didn't care what kind of kids I had. I just wanted to be back in this area. I watched two minutes of film and I was sold.”
The Colony struggled record-wise in the two years prior to Smith’s arrival, but she knew firsthand of the team’s past success as well as the untapped potential of the current batch of Lady Cougars. Current Lewisville ISD associate athletic director Colby Davis led The Colony to 98 wins from 2016-19 thanks to a loaded roster that included Tamia Jones (SMU) and Jewel Spear (Wake Forest).
Smith recalled a few times when Hebron played The Colony in her time with the Lady Hawks. And it was during that time as well as her playing days at Timberview when Branch provided Smith with guidance about team building and executing the X’s and O’s.
Smith did a lot of team-building activities with her new team this season. Every day at practice, she started with a quote and related it to what The Colony was going through as a team. There was also a sticker board that listed player stats after each game, which was the same thing that Timberview had in the locker room during Smith’s high school career. She also had lunch with the senior players on more than one occasion.
“She's the best mentor a coach could have,” Smith said of Branch. “Having been there and helping to turn around that Hebron program when I came in with her is exactly what I had to go through with her my first year here. It was about bringing back that winning mentality. We had the kids at Hebron. It was just about building that mindset of winning.”
Winning is something that The Colony was hungry for. The Lady Cougars had plenty of winning moments on the court last season, but The Colony struggled to a 9-15 record and fell short of the playoffs for the second straight season.
But for Smith, winning wasn’t the most important thing. It was about building relationships with the players and other members of the coaching staff.
The Colony junior forward Rayna Williams credited Smith for her ability to relate to the players.
"I feel like we're more connected and we are able to work more together on the court because she gives us a little more freedom to do what we do best,” Williams said.
As with any team, there is an adjustment period to acclimate the players with their new coach as well as their offensive and defensive plays. The Colony struggled to a 3-6 start but it was at the Toast of the Coast Tournament in Rockport during the first week of December when the season began to take a turn for the better. The Lady Cougars won all five games to capture first place, and that served as the spring board to winning the District 9-5A title.
“We were trying to find out our identity,” Smith said. “When we went down to that tournament, we found it. We gelled and clicked. They finally had bought in to what I was telling them.”
Smith made playing defense a priority. Her players were quick to buy in. The Colony boasted a stingy defense, as the Lady Cougars gave up an average of 40 points per game.
The Colony also received timely offense. Senior forward Aaliyah Brown was a double-double machine with 11.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Williams was also a forced down in the paint as she averaged 11.5 points and eight board. Senior guard Kahlen Norris was one of the most improved players in the district, and she went on to pour in 11.2 points per game. And The Colony, as a whole, saw many players make significant improvement in their overall game.
"I definitely give them credit for accepting me,” Smith said. “They've had three coaches since being here in TC. They could have said coast through the season, but they didn't at all by any means.”
The Colony made it a habit of coasting to victories. The Lady Cougars posted 18 more wins than all of last season and captured the district title on the final night of the regular season with a 49-28 victory over Frisco Wakeland.
That was just the start of good things to come as The Colony posted double-digit wins over Frisco Heritage (49-38) and West Mesquite (65-28) to begin the postseason, and the Lady Cougars went on to finish as a regional quarterfinalist.
But Smith and the Lady Cougars are just getting started.
"Like I told the ones that are coming back, this is a statement run,” she said. “This is back to what we're doing. It's not just one-and-done. We've got some big shoes to fill. We have in our meetings to encourage the younger ones to come out and fill the roles that the seniors left behind. We want to put more stickers on that board and hopefully had some banners in that new arena that we're getting."
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