Martin senior Emily Slagle considers teammate Gabby Bell a frustrating player. And that’s a compliment.
The Martin girls basketball team thrives on its man-to-man defense, and the most pesky on-the-ball defender is Bell, the Lady Warriors’ sophomore starting point guard. Her continued development has played no small part in the team’s return to the playoffs. Martin (21-5, 11-2 in district) was alone in second place heading into the District 3-5A finale Tuesday against third-place Lamar.
“I definitely think she has grown up a lot on the floor and she is more vocal,” said Slagle, the team’s leading scorer and reigning district offensive player of the year. “Her defense is amazing. I think she’s learning what she can do and how frustrating it can be for other teams.”
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The morning after Martin was eliminated in the area round of the playoffs by Lubbock Coronado in 2013, coach Brooke Brittain awoke to a text from Bell asking when the Lady Warriors were going to get back to practice. It was time to prepare to beat Coronado. Brittain figures Bell was joking — sort of.
“She was already thinking ahead for Lubbock Coronado,” Brittian said. “You’ve got that empty, deflated feeling after losing in the playoffs. And to get a text from my freshman point guard ready to move forward, it was a burst of energy. And I was ready to go to work with her. I wished the next season started right then.”
Bell brought that level of enthusiasm into this season, and the added confidence that came from the hard work she put in between her freshmen and sophomore seasons.
“You just have to keep working harder every year,” Bell said. “I don’t think it gets harder or easier. You just have to keep working hard at it.”
Hard work is important in the Lady Warriors’ offense, where patience is more important than tempo. That is, Martin by design isn’t one of the higher octane offenses in the district. But what the Lady Warriors lack in prolific output, they make up for in efficiency.
“We work the ball and are patient,” Slagle said. “We don’t want to just come down and throw up a three-point shot.”
Slagle can carry the load, but when opponents are trying to face-guard the senior and limit her shots, she knows she can rely on someone else on the team to score some key baskets. In a recent victory against Weatherford, for example, Lexis Weber came through with 14 big points to help the Lady Warriors put away the persistent Lady Roos.
“If somebody’s face-guarding me, I just have to be patient and find the open player and trust them to take the shot,” Slagle said. “That’s where our defense has helped me, is I am getting some of those transition opportunities and easy baskets that way.”
Stops and steals turn into easy scoring chances, but those turnovers and transition chances only comes about when everyone on defense is doing their job at play on-the-ball and off-the-ball defense, Slagle said. “When we play as a team, it will fuel our offense and help us feel more confident on offense, too,” Slagle said.
Despite being counted on to slow down the other team’s primary scorer or ball handler, Bell, like Slagle, prefers to give the Lady Warriors’ team-oriented approach the primary credit for her success. “I love working hard on defense,” Bell said. “I love pressuring the ball. The team supports me. The team has my back in gap support. It’s a support system.”
Bell’s not looking past the bi-district round of the playoffs, but the sophomore hopes it’s a long while before she’s giving her coach another enthusiastic text about working toward next season.
“We’re striving for success,” Bell said. “If we stick our minds to it and don’t give up, I feel like we can go farther than last year.”