Last season, the Euless Trinity Trojans reached a fourth consecutive playoff berth by defeating rival Hurst L.D. Bell for the final spot.
Now, with five players returning who started at one time or another during last season, coach Mark Villines’ squad is looking to reach the postseason for the fifth consecutive year, a first in the program’s history, without as much drama.
Meanwhile, Bell coach Willie Henderson, whose team was hit a little more by graduation, is counting on his team’s defense, determination and some quick maturing by a couple of freshmen to keep his squad in contention as the Blue Raiders continue to chase their first playoff berth since 2011.
Back as starters for the Trojans (17-13 last season) are seniors Jhivvan Jackson, 6-foot-3, at guard/point guard; 6-3 guard Devin Newton; 6-2 guard Josh Kashila; 6-3 forward Derrick Guinn; and 6-4 post/forward Jareth Roberts.
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Jackson was the offensive MVP of District 7-6A last season, averaging about 22 points. Newton was a first-team all-district choice.
Senior Jacob Myatt, a 5-10 guard, is also back. Top newcomers include 6-4 senior post Jay Toro, a move-in from Puerto Rico, and 6-3 junior guard Hunter Witcher, up from the junior varsity.
“We have several others up from the JV, but with so many returning varsity players we didn’t have room for as many,” Villines said. “We’ve got some real talent back from last year.
“The way we’re approaching it with [those up from JV] is we’re expecting you to get experience and carry the load next year.”
Jackson, who has already committed to play for the University of Texas at San Antonio, has a chance to accomplish something no player in Trinity history has ever done. A four-year varsity player, he can reach the postseason in each season.
“That would be a great thing for him to have happen, he’s meant so much to this program,” Villines said.
Both Trinity and Bell are in a new league this season, District 5-6A. It also includes Lewisville, Flower Mound, Lewisville Hebron, Flower Mound Marcus, Justin Northwest Nelson and Southlake Carroll.
Along with Trinity, Flower Mound, Carroll and Nelson reached bi-district last season. Hebron advanced to the area round. Marcus won back-to-back state championships in 2011-12.
While Villines believes his team’s greatest strength is its experience, he thinks the biggest intangible could be its chemistry.
“If we can keep our heads level, we can bond and do some great things,” he said. “They’ve been there, done that and seen what they need to see.”
Trinity was eliminated in bi-district 78-43 by DeSoto, which went on to win the Class 6A state championship.
The Blue Raiders return one full-time starter from last season’s 11-20 squad, 6-2 senior forward Boston Billings, along with part-time starter 6-2 senior forward Remon Toto. Billings, however, is on the disabled list until at least Christmas, Henderson said.
Ondre Lacy, a 5-8 senior and key reserve last season, will be the Raiders’ starting point guard this season, Henderson said. Highlighting the newcomers are a pair of freshmen, 6-2 shooting guard Nathan Howard and 6-3 forward Deng Alier.
“We are a very young and inexperienced team, with two freshmen probably starting and only three returning lettermen,” Henderson said.
As for the new district, Henderson said there won’t be much difference from years past.
“The new district will be very competitive from top to bottom, which is no different from any other district we’ve been in,” he said.
Henderson listed his team’s greatest strength as defense. And what about intangibles?
“Hopefully, it is our will to compete,” he said.