Three Lady Panthers seniors heading to playoffs
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Feb. 13, 2006 - BIRTHRIGHT - Winning twice as many games as you lose is usually a mark of success. But, the three seniors for the North Hopkins Lady Panthers say their 20-10 record reflects a roller coaster season.

The three have enough playoff experience, however, to know that the final judgment on their season's success will be in the playoffs, which for them starts tonight. 

The Lady Panthers, champions of District 19-A, Div. I, will take on Avery, the 20-A runner-up, at 6:30 p.m. today at Prairiland High School. The winner will play either Lindsay or Merit Bland in the area round at the end of the week.

Getting past those two games would leave a positive mark on a season which senior Katy Williams says has been "up and down."

"It's had its ups and downs - that's pretty much how it's been," said Williams, an All-State post who is averaging 25 points and 15 rebounds per game. "We haven't had consistent good games. We've had our good games and our bad games, and our average games, but we don't consistently have good games.

"We want to get past area. If we get past that, it would be cool."

The Lady Panthers have lost in the area round the last two years to Muenster, both times in overtime.

But, NHHS head coach Tim Menke - who won his 300th game earlier this season and now has 304 victories to his credit - said the Lady Panthers can't overlook Avery in the bi-district match-up.

"We cannot take bi-district for granted at all," Menke said. "The second round has been our roadblock here for a long time. We're tired of losing that second-round game, but we've got to get to the second round first.

"We can't take anyone for granted."

He said the Lady Panthers' recipe for success is not a secret formula. They need to get production out of Williams, who has been double-teamed all season, and have the perimeter shooters knock down the open shots.

One of those shooters is senior Nancy Castro, who had five 3-pointers in the Lady Panthers' win over Como-Pickton earlier this season and leads the team with almost 30 from beyond the arc. She has scored in double figures six times this season.

Fellow senior Elizabeth McPherson had her best offensive game of the season with nine points against Boles two weeks ago. She missed about half of the season after undergoing knee surgery.

The team also relies on junior guard Ebbonye Johnson and sophomore point guard Jessi Mannis.

"We've seen so much zone this season because so many teams are so concerned with Katy," Menke said. "Every defense is designed to stop her, and that has given our guards a lot of open looks from the outside. The games they've knocked the shots down, we've won handily. The games they haven't hit them, we've lost."

North Hopkins also played a treacherous non-district schedule that included state-ranked teams Liberty-Eylau, Martins Mill, Honey Grove (twice), Celeste and Clarksville.

They led No. 1-ranked Martins Mill in the third quarter before falling, and had Honey Grove down by seven points with three minutes left in the game, but ended up losing. It was that game that dealt a mental blow to the team, Menke said.

"I think that game hurt us quite a bit because it would have given us a nice confidence boost," he explained. "The schedule was pretty difficult, but I think what happened to us was that we lost some confidence because we lost some close games going into district."

The team then won its final three games going into district and were sweeping through 19-A before stumbling against Campbell in their second meeting. The Lady Panthers shot just 19 percent from the field as their 31-game district winning streak came to an end.

"We were really playing well, then we hit a road block in Campbell," Menke said. "So, the confidence we had gained got shook a little bit. We came back and played a pretty good game against Boles."

But, he admitted to being "a little concerned right now" by the girls' inconsistent play.

That's not lost on the players.

"It's been an up-and-down season, but I think we expected it to have more ups," said McPherson. "Everybody's got to work together in the playoffs."

It all comes down to being focused, said Williams.

"We're just going to get focused," she said. "We have to or it's the end."

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