When Arlington Martin girls basketball coach Bethany Gonzalez needs a volunteer at practice to start a drill or demonstrate a skill, Mariah Roberts is always quick to raise her hand.
And against one of the state’s top teams, the Lady Warriors coach looked to her freshman point guard to defend Bowie’s best player in a Jan. 23 game with district championship implications.
True to form, Roberts eagerly accepted the challenge. Roberts scored eight of her 13 points in leading a second-half rally before the Lady Vols pulled away late.
It was only the second district loss (each to Bowie) for Martin, which could be a tough team come playoff time despite the squad’s relative inexperience.
“When I go up against a good team, that makes it more interesting,” said Roberts, one of two freshmen on the Martin varsity. “We go on a run. They go on a run.”
Roberts spent much of the game matched up against Bowie guard and North Texas commit Jasmyne Robinson. The Lady Vols senior scored 20 points, but those buckets didn’t come easy. Roberts’ effort on defense got Robinson’s attention.
“She’s pretty athletic,” Robinson said. “She’s a good player. Man, she can play defense and score the ball, too.”
Bowie, which is undefeated in district, faced Martin just one game after the Lady Warriors received nationwide buzz after senior Tatum Henderson made an improbable 60-foot shot in overtime to beat Lamar.
“That’s what it’s all about: the fun,” Gonzalez said. “They really took that all in.”
The emotional high of the Lamar win didn’t detract from Martin’s performance against the Lady Vols.
“I think they came ready to play today,” Gonzalez said of her squad. “We’ve had some injuries. Some of our kids are sick. I haven’t had a full squad at practice in two weeks. They played hard. They came out and played hard and they grew.”
Roberts has shown steady growth since the early part of the season. She went from feeling nervous on the court to being able to run the show even when she’s sharing the floor with three seniors and a junior.
“She’s not scared,” Gonzalez said. “We have three seniors and a junior on the court at certain times, and it takes a lot of confidence and maturity to be able to do that. She leads them well. She’s getting more vocal. She hates to lose. Point guards have to have that drive and that want. She has it for sure.”
Roberts and fellow freshman guard Autumn Smith were dominant junior high players a season ago. The transition to varsity required them to be quick studies, especially in the way team defense is played.
“You have to get the concept that you’ve got to help your teammates and it’s not just you and who you’re guarding. And that’s something new for them,” Gonzalez said. “They’ve come a long way.”
There were the expected struggles. Roberts remembers her confidence wavering during one game. But she was able to calm down and get back to playing her high-intensity style.
“I remember one game, I was so nervous. I was making mental mistakes,” Roberts said. “I said, ‘I’ve got to get my head right.’ So I just gradually got into it, got comfortable.”
These days, there’s no stage too big for Roberts or the Lady Warriors.
“You get used to it,” the freshman said. “You just go out there and play your game.”