Lamar junior Dezirae Hampton sees a difference in Dierra Ely’s game this season. Ely, a senior, is the player who makes the Lady Vikings go. And where she’s leading them is toward the playoffs.
After missing out on the postseason in 2013, the Lamar girls basketball team is back to its winning ways thanks to improvements Ely and others made last offseason.
The Lady Vikings are 15-6 overall and 7-2 in 3-5A play, good for second place in the district, after beating Weatherford and Fort Worth Paschal by more than 20 points last week.
“She’s always been good,” Hampton said of Ely. “But she has stepped up to a different level. AAU changed her.”
Ely, a Grambling State signee who has been on varsity since her freshman season, is one of several Lady Vikings players who participated in Amateur Athletic Union basketball last summer. And when they weren’t playing for their select teams, Lamar players were practicing together and pushing each other to improve, Ely said.
“We want to take first,” Ely said.
Lamar opened district play 5-0 before back-to-back losses to defending district champion Bowie and rival Martin. The Lady Vikings struggled from the free-throw line in both games, including a narrow loss to the playoff-contending Lady Warriors.
“We hit a little bump in the road, but we’re still focused on where we want to go,” Ely said.
Ely, who believes she has become a better passer and free-throw shooter since her junior year, said this year’s improvement has occurred in part because of how close the teammates are outside of basketball.
“Our chemistry off the court determines what happens on the court,” Ely said. “We all have really good chemistry together. I think that’s the key to it. Even beyond practice. On the weekends we hang out. We study together. Then we have practice. We’re just always together.”
Hampton agrees with Ely that one of the keys to Lamar’s success is tight-knit team chemistry. “You always see us together,” Hampton said. “Lunch and everything, we’re always together.”
But getting along together doesn’t help the Lady Vikings overcome their smallness. The entire Lady Vikings roster is under 6 feet tall, and the roster is not as large in number as some of Lamar’s district opponents.
“We’re a small team, but we’re all focused and aiming for the same goal,” Hampton said.
Senior Elsie Ngomi said Lamar’s guards are tenacious at going after rebounds and loose balls. Most of the time, the constant effort pays off.
“We make up for our height by being aggressive, and we can get in there,” Ngomi said. “We always do our best to make up for it.”
The Lady Vikings’ effort shows up particularly on defense. Coach Erinn Levels trusts her players to lock up on the opposing players man to man, instead of playing a zone that can make up for a lack of size but can leave a team vulnerable to open shots.
“I think our strength’s our defense,” Levels said. “We can match up man to man on anybody.”
Levels, who has been impressed with her team’s improved maturity compared with last season, has noticed her team gets an extra boost of excitement to play in games with a playoff vibe.
“They love the excitement of big games and the big-time atmosphere,” Levels said.
Ngomi said before her team can focus on the postseason it must first focus on rematches against Martin and Bowie in district play. She believes Lamar can win against both teams in the second meetings if the players learn from past mistakes.
“We’ll continue to grow and learn from each other,” Ngomi said.