State bound: Cowgirls saddle up for first state tournament in program history
Coppell emerges victorious over Lobos in final moments of regional final
February 27, 2023
FORT WORTH – It’s official: the Coppell girls basketball team is state bound. After all of the sacrifice, the hard work put in the early mornings and the late nights, the Cowgirls are on their way to San Antonio.
Their work is not finished yet, however.
On Saturday, the Coppell girls basketball team defeated Little Elm, 51-47, in the Class 6A Region final at Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center.
The Cowgirls (38-3) play Northside Clark (32-3) at the Alamodome in San Antonio at 7 p.m. in the Class 6A semifinals. The winner advances to play the Pearland-DeSoto winner at 8:30 p.m. Saturday for the state championship.
The Cowgirls take the court as the starting players sit anxiously on the bench, their heads hanging down, their elbows pressed on their knees, as they wait to hear their name called. Cheerleaders, coaches and other players form a line, a straightforward path to success. Coppell senior guard Jules LaMendola hears her name over the speakers, jogs through the line, her eyes focused on Coppell sophomore guard Londyn Harper waiting at the end.
LaMendola stands before Harper, then leans down as Harper places a crown upon her head, one that has remained there since the beginning of their season, witnessing the Cowgirls vanquish the seasons of four teams.
“They deserve this more than anybody else. I love that they’re going to represent us at state.” — CHS Principal Laura Springer
“They deserve this more than anybody else. I love that they’re going to represent us at state.”
— CHS Principal Laura Springer
The score is 46-43 Coppell as the clock counts down from 3:30 in the fourth quarter. The Cowgirls have possession of the ball, when Little Elm junior point guard Madison Martin suddenly breaks through Coppell’s play, intercepting the ball and scoring a layup.
The arena reaches a deafening level as the score flips to 46-45 Coppell, with just over two and a half minutes left in the game.
All of the familiar faces in the Cowgirls’ stands feel a wave of nausea wash over them as they realize what Coppell could lose in these last few minutes. The Cowgirls had fought the whole game to win back their lead and up until now had been able to maintain a comfortable one.
But now, they face the consequences of what a loss now would mean: resolving the title of regional champions, the end of their historic season, the end of an era.
LaMendola refuses to let this possibility become a reality. LaMendola scores a bucket when the game resumes, extending Coppell’s lead to 48-45, 1:33 remaining in the game. The Coppell crowd roars in response, hope fluttering in their hearts.
The game continues at a standoff, neither team able to score. Coppell senior guard Waverly Hassman has the ball back on offense, and is cornered by Lobos at half-court after picking up her dribble.
A foul is called on Little Elm sophomore shooting guard Raniyah Hunt, one of the players cornering Hassman. Hassman walks over to the free throw line, inhaling and exhaling the pressure of the game.
The ball bounces off the rim, simultaneous noise arising from both sides of the court. Hassman centers herself and is able to make her second shot, Coppell adding one point to their score, now 49-45.
Little Elm has possession now, Kimpson finding herself with the ball again. Kimpson analyzes the Cowgirls’ defense, desperately searching for an opening to score. Kimpson finds it and drives through the right lane to score, shrinking Coppell’s lead to 49-47.
The clock ticks away. Twenty-five seconds remain in the game. The Cowgirls run the clock; all they have to do is keep possession and they go to state.
The ball magnetizes to LaMendola’s hands but the Lobos’ defense overpowers her, trapping her in the corner at half-court, just like Hassman.
The referee indicates the source of the foul, pointing to Little Elm sophomore point guard Shiloh Kimpson. The Coppell stands rise to their feet, stomping and screaming, placing all of their faith into LaMendola for the free throws.
LaMendola focuses on her routine, but something blocks her this time. She misses both shots; Little Elm is given possession with 7.7 seconds left to tie or win, and calls a timeout to strategize.
The Lobos run their play, Coppell junior guard Ella Spiller and LaMendola running a double team in back court to prevent Amarachi Kimpson from scoring.
“Our message to the team was ‘three doesn’t beat us,’” Coppell girls basketball coach Ryan Murphy said.
The Cowgirls proved to be successful in their goal, both deterring Amarachi Kimpson and forcing a turnover with 0.6 seconds remaining in the game.
The Cowgirls throw the ball in from their defensive end, holding onto the ball and their lead as tightly as possible. LaMendola darts around on the left side of the court, then falls to the ground just before the buzzer sounds. The crowd goes silent.
“What does this mean?” synchronously floats through everyone’s minds as they sit on the edge of their seats. The referees deliberate near the table, then come back out to the court, 0.3 seconds added back to the clock and a foul charged to Little Elm, LaMendola receiving two free throws as a result.
She steps up to the line, receives the ball, then dribbles it twice in an attempt to clear her mind through the pandemonium.
The scoreboard flicks to 50-47 Coppell as LaMendola lines up again for her next shot. An overwhelming surge of “boos” come from Little Elm’s stands, but LaMendola connects with the basket, unaffected by the distraction.
And just like that, the electrifying game comes to an end. The buzzer chimes and LaMendola throws her hands up in the air as the cheerleaders rush to the center of the court to meet the team. Coppell senior guard Macey Mercer breaks away from the excitement of the huddle, looking for someone.
Mercer and LaMendola walk towards each other, LaMendola greeting Mercer with open arms, embracing and swinging Mercer around in celebration.
According to LaMendola, her favorite moment of the night wasn’t her final free throws or the trophy the Cowgirls received later on, but Mercer’s defense, a comment that embodies the Cowgirl culture as well as the family the program has created.
“Nobody really grew up wanting to be a Cowgirl basketball player, it just wasn’t on people’s minds,” Murphy said. “And [the girls] have completely changed the culture of the program, the standard of what it means to be a Cowgirl basketball player. Now we have all these little girls in the stands that want to be out here someday.”
The trophies are presented next, Little Elm receiving theirs first. Shiloh Kimpson accepts the trophy for her team, holding back tears in her eyes.
LaMendola accepts Coppell’s next. She raises the trophy above her head, everyone on the team and everyone in the stands looking up at their gleaming accomplishment. Pride swells in everyone’s eyes and hearts as the Cowgirls and their supporters fight back tears as well.
A few minutes later, Mercer climbs up a ladder, ascending to the rim the Cowgirls ended the game on. One by one, each member of the team rises to cut a strand of the next, a memento that will remind them of this day for years to come.
LaMendola goes last, hearing the applause of the crowd for one of the last times in her high school career. The ladder shakes beneath her as she carefully steps down, and she meets her teammates back on the court.
The coaches cut the net next, a deafening wave of roars resound through the gym for Murphy, who finishes the ceremony and drapes the severed net over the Cowgirls’ trophy.
LaMendola breaks away from the team and rushes to the stands, jumping into her mother’s arms. Just like they have all season, the team follows LaMendola’s lead, leaping into the stands to their loved ones.
After the stands begin to clear out, the Cowgirls and the coaches recede to their locker room, one by one. LaMendola enters last, cheers echoing off the stone walls as she steps into the room, suddenly muted as the door swings shut.
“We’re just halfway up the mountain, we still have two games left,” LaMendola says. “We have to keep grinding, it’s not over yet, we still have a lot to work towards,”
According to Murphy, the Cowgirls got too stagnant in the past two rounds of playoffs, but will continue to build up their defense and study the personnel of Northside Clark.
“Nothing really special changes,” Hassman said. “[We will] just keep doing what we do because what we do got us to this point and it will take us home.”
Cowgirls slay Dragons in regional semifinals
FORT WORTH – Red and green clashes in the vast space of the arena. The stands are filled with each color, with fans on both sides trailing their team, anxious for the result of the game. The same hues shine through the gleaming lights of the scoreboard, which will then reflect a hallmark victory for the Coppell girls basketball team as they advance to the regional finals.
On Friday, the Coppell girls basketball team defeated Southlake Carroll, 51-41, in the regional semifinals at Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center.
With 1:28 left in the game, the Cowgirls lead, 43-39, when Coppell senior guard Macey Mercer is knocked to the ground from a foul and takes her place at the free throw line.
Both sides of the arena are chanting and standing, their voices reverberating through their lungs as they raise their volume as loud as they can, so their support can echo through the arena and into the ears of their team.
The Dragons’ student section rises to its feet, increasing their volume more and more, as they attempt to distract Mercer from the shots.
Meanwhile, the Coppell side of the arena chants “Let’s go Cowgirls,” establishing a rhythm that will carry the Cowgirls to victory. Mercer adjusts her position, looks up to the basket, and scores both shots, seemingly unaffected by the chaos of the stands.
Carroll gains possession afterwards, shooting a futile shot on their offensive end, as Mercer grabs the rebound and locates Coppell senior guard Jules LaMendola. LaMendola drives across the court to the basket, drawing a foul and subsequently marches over to the free throw line to face her shots.
LaMendola comes in clutch, scoring both with 1:09 left in the game, extending Coppell’s lead to 47-39.
Everything in the arena comes to halt as LaMendola wrestles with Carroll guard Gianna Jordan for the ball.
Everyone holds their breath as the referee makes the call. Foul on Jordan. LaMendola strides to the free throw line, the clock paused at 7.4 seconds remaining in the game. LaMendola inhales, shoots, scores, and then repeats for the next shot.
Coppell is now ahead, 51-39, Carroll with possession. Carroll sophomore guard Milania Jordan slips in a bucket at the last second, the last points of Carroll’s 2022-23 basketball season.
LaMendola rushes onto the court to greet her teammates, fists flying high in the air. The buzzer rings through the air, indicating the end of the game. Immediately, DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” plays over the speakers, resounding the Cowgirls’ victory for all to hear.
Early in the second quarter, Coppell substituted LaMendola out of the game, disruption following quickly after.
According to Coppell girls basketball coach Ryan Murphy, one of the officials signaled to the Cowgirls to continue with the substitute, while the other official ignored them and called a technical.
“I feel like we were in a position to blow the game open and run away with it and I feel like the officials stole that momentum,” Coppell girls basketball coach Ryan Murphy said. “But part of that is our fault for letting something outside of our control affect us.”
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