|Saltillo heads into playoffs with young team|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
Feb. 10, 2006 - SALTILLO - Coach Garry Davison knew his Saltillo Lady Lions would be young this year. He just didn't know they would be this good.
The Lady Lions don't have a senior on the roster, but that hasn't kept them from rolling to a 22-6 record and a District 20-A, Div. II championship.
Saltillo will take on Dodd City, the 19-A runner-up, at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Greenville in the opening round of the state playoffs. It will be the second consecutive playoff trip for the Lady Lions, who went the three previous years without qualifying.
"After losing four of our top six players from last year, I didn't know if we would be able to repeat our success from last year," said Davison, whose team went 25-6 and tied for the district title in 2005. "But, these young girls have stepped up and competed."
The Lady Lions start one junior (point guard Chloe Roberts), two sophomores (post Winter Stevens and Jessica Gilbreath) and two freshmen (Cara Geerts and Emily White).
The have melded into a team that won two tournaments, their own and the one in Sulphur Bluff, and finished third Yantis' tourney. Of Saltillo's six losses, four of them were in overtime. The Lady Lions then went 9-1 in district play, including a pair of victories over second-place Avinger.
Davison attributes the Lady Lions' success to their defense. They held their district opponents to less than 34 points per game.
"The girls have really bought into the defensive scheme we have," Davison said of the man-to-man scheme he uses. "They're very active defensively."
Offensively, the scoring has mostly been on the shoulders of Stevens, a First Team All-District selection last year as a freshman, and Roberts, who was the Newcomer of the Year as a freshman and Offensive Player of the Year last season. But, Davison expects the other players to contribute more scoring in the playoffs.
"Teams will try to take away those two," he said, "so the others will have to make their shots and score some points."
The younger players have had to grow up in a hurry because the Lady Lions lost four key contributors from their 2005 team. Three seniors graduated, and then 6-2 sophomore Stephanie Methe - the only player over 5-8 on the team - transferred to Winnsboro.
That has left something of a rebounding void on the team, Davison said.
"Our weakness has been rebounding. Part of it is our size, and the other thing is that we play good defense, then when the shot goes up, we don't always go after the rebound.," he explained. "We're young, and we haven't learned yet that you have to play defense the entire time until you get the rebound."
Still, the team has done a lot of other things well. Maybe surprisingly well.
"I don't know if we surprised people, because I think everyone knew our young girls were good," Davison said. "But, I didn't know if we could win district."
Now, they will try to get past their opening round opponent, Dodd City, who has more height than the Lady Lions.
Last year, Saltillo lost to Ector in the opening round of the postseason as three or four Lady Lions were sick on game day.
"Hopefully, we'll stay well," Davison said, "and play like we have been."