After losing seven seniors from last season’s regional finalist squad, the Mansfield Summit girls basketball team knew it would have a very different appearance this year. A mix of youth and experience, one important ingredient was going to be necessary for the Lady Jaguars to replicate that kind of success: chemistry.
Talent, of course, is important, but without this team bonding as it has, it’s unlikely it would be sporting its impressive 19-5 overall record and a 4-1 mark in District 10-5A play.
“To me, chemistry is one of the most important things with high schools kids and teams these days — getting them to pull together and be a team,” head coach Dawn Mailloux-Smith said. “One of the things we stressed has been simply coming together — team chemistry and trusting each other. The seniors have been good leaders to those younger kids and been good support for them. An extension of the coaching staff.”
One of those few senior leaders is Amber Dixon, who hopes to cap off her injury-interrupted career with a lengthy playoff run. Dixon missed the last portion of her junior year with a knee injury, but has returned to direct this team on the court and off. She feels that time on the sideline last year actually helped her grow as a vocal leader.
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“It helped me look at a lot of things differently and to be able to help my teammates out,” Dixon said. “I think we’re comfortable around each other. We know what each of us brings to the team and we know how to uplift each other and get each other going.”
Perhaps a microcosm of Summit’s growth can be found in the Spring Creek Invitational held late last month. The Lady Jaguars reached the tournament final despite a shaky first day.
“Part of that, in my mind, was young kids having six days off and the inexperience of not knowing how to come back and put it back together and get it going,” Mailloux-Smith said. “We talked about that after the first day.”
Summit followed up that day with what Mailloux-Smith described as the best eight consecutive quarters all season in impressive victories over Pflugerville and Canyon — at the time the No. 2 team in the Texas Associations of Basketball Coaches state poll.
“Our kids have bought in,” she added. “They realized in order for us to have success, it has to be a team effort. Everyone has to accept their role and embrace their role and support each other.”
Some would say the Lady Jaguars are even ahead of schedule, given the roster turnover. The ability to gel quickly has not only made the team successful, but made the season that much more enjoyable.
“Off the court, we’re always together. We always hang out together, so our chemistry on the court and off the court are the same pretty much,” Dixon said. “Being as successful as we’ve been this season, it’s been a lot of fun and has made us feel better about our team. Seeing what potential we have has made the season really fun so far.”