Hough basketball sees dramatic turnaround
by Staff Writer
by Cliff Mehrtens
From the outside, it didn’t look like the Hough High girls basketball team was headed anywhere special.
At the Christmas break, the Huskies were 6-6 and hadn’t won or lost more than two games in a row. It would’ve been easy to dismiss the Huskies as middle-of-the-road material.
Not great. Not awful. Just kind of there.
But within those six losses were two by two points, and the others were all against solid competition. Coach Sonja Tate’s squad was paying dues early, in hopes it would pay off later on.
Later on is here, and Hough has been soaring since the holidays. They’re on a nine-game winning streak since being 6-6 and are closing in on an I-MECK 4A conference championship.
“We needed to figure out how to close games and figure out how to continue to play through the fourth quarter,” said Tate, a former WNBA player. “That’s where we were pretty much losing it, getting scared and turning the ball over. We lost to Berry by a couple of points, but we were in every game. It was tough, not good as far as our record goes, but good for us to get some good competition.”
The winning streak began with a 59-58 victory against West Charlotte on Jan. 3 and also includes two-point wins against Mallard Creek (44-42) on Jan. 13, and at West Charlotte (54-52) on Jan. 31.
Hough’s strengths are its balance and depth. Point guard Anna Diggs, a sophomore, leads with a 12.1 scoring average. She’s the outside shooting threat, with 43 3-pointers. Brandi Arey, a junior, averages 10.2 points, and Kelsey Dean averages 9.5.
Other Huskies have taken turns scoring in double-figures, grabbing key rebounds and making big defensive plays. Hough has limited opponents to 40 points or less 10 times.
“We’re more of a team,” Arey said. “We’ve grown together more, and worked harder. I think our attitude changed. At first, we were thinking `Oh, we’ve got this.’ We realized there were other teams out there that can beat us, so we started working harder.”
In the past month, Hough has been winning games that may have slipped away in November and December. The team doesn’t have any seniors, and Arey is the lone junior.
That inexperience may have had something to do with the early-season bumps, but Tate doesn’t use that as an excuse.
“I tell them now they’re not freshmen, and nobody cares that they’re sophomores,” Tate said. “They’re playing on a varsity team against other varsity players. (Opponents) don’t care.
“Those non-conference games really helped us out. They were tough games. If you look at those games, we were leading in all of those games, except for one, going into the fourth quarter.
“I see it paying off. We’re coming together as a team. This is pretty much where you want to be hitting your stride. This is where you want to be getting better each game.3 I think we’ve done that. We found something we weren’t doing very well, whether it was rebounding, shooting free throws, running our plays, communicating, etc. Now we’re doing all those things, and we still have things to work on.”
Dean said the Huskies couldn’t rest on their laurels, which included a decent first season in which they finished third in the I-MECK 4A and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs.
Tate said the team goals are to win the conference, and better last season’s playoff run. A lot of teams say that; the Huskies appear primed to accomplish it.
“We talk about executing on a daily basis, about executing in the beginning and in the fourth quarter,” Tate said. “We’ve also lost leads. We’ve come back, too. They know they have the resilience and strength to be able to fight back.
Tate said she likes the way the team gets along, something that can often go awry and ruin a season.
“I try to create that family environment where they can come to me, the other coaches and their teammates,” Tate said. “I think everyone enjoys being around each other. That’s a winning formula because I’ve been on a lot of winning teams. When you have that, where you’re very comfortable and supportive of each other, it almost gets to the point where out on the court, you don’t even worry about your opponent. It’s all about what you’re doing. That’s what I’m trying to help them to see.
“When you start playing like that, it won’t be about the opponent. It’ll be about us, and they’ll have a lot more fun doing that, and winning.”