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Smyer's freshman guards mature throughout season

Posted: February 27, 2013 - 11:58pm  |  Updated: February 28, 2013 - 1:25am
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Smyer's Brogan Henley drives around Plains' Alyx Henderson during the regional final in Levelland Saturday. (Stephen Spillman)  Stephen Spillman
Stephen Spillman
Smyer's Brogan Henley drives around Plains' Alyx Henderson during the regional final in Levelland Saturday. (Stephen Spillman)
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Leland Bearden admits he was scared almost to death at the beginning of the year.

He knew what he had in seniors Jordan Locke and Kennedy Farr, both four-year letterwinners who have started their share of playoff games. He was also confident in junior Brogan Henley, a key component from last year.

From there, however, the rest of his roster to start the season was made up of a sophomore and five freshmen, and he knew he would have to start the season with two freshman guards.

That thrust Lexie Fowler and Shelby McCullough into the spotlight, both of them fresh out of junior high and neither with nary an ounce of varsity experience.

“I was really nervous,” Fowler said. “Just being my first year on varsity, it was really nerve-wracking. I just didn’t want to mess up. Being on varsity, I knew there would be a lot of people watching.”

For most programs, a freshman on varsity might not be a big deal. But for a program that has gotten used to reaching the state tournament and winning it all, higher than normal expectations awaited Fowler and McCullough.

Add into the fact the added motivation for Smyer of missing last year’s state tournament after back-to-back state crowns, and the intensity of the situation was enormous.

“I was excited, too, but it was scary at first as a freshman to not know if I was going to be good enough to play with everybody else,” McCullough said. “It was kind of nerve-wracking but I just tried to have fun and do my best.”

Eventually, like all freshmen, Fowler and McCullough grew, maturing enough to get the Lady Cats (32-6) into the regional tournament, then playing almost flawlessly for two days as Smyer qualified for its third state tournament in four years.

Now, another kind of pressure awaits the two freshmen on the floor of the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, when the Lady Cats open state tournament play today at 8:30 a.m. against Dallas Triple A Academy.

Going to state with a young team is nothing new to Bearden, who carried three sophomore starters on the first state title team in 2010. And at this point, with 38 games under their belt, he’s no longer worried about his two guards.

“You can tell on their faces they have confidence,” Bearden said, “They both come from basketball families, so the mental aspect is there. We knew they had the ability to do it, and they’ve played up to that ability. There’s nothing that’s new for them anymore.”

Fowler has the added bonus of having experience she can rely on in her own family, being the younger sister of former Lady Cats standout Haley Fowler. Lexie Fowler said she talked to her older sister this week, who advised her to just have fun and continue to play the way they have all season.

Neither Fowler nor McCullough have been counted upon heavily for scoring; rather, their job is to get it into Locke and Farr, both of whom average well into double digits in scoring. But they can contribute in the scoring column.

Lexie Fowler is the Lady Cats’s third leading scorer, averaging 7.9 points per game going into the regional tournament. She said she started feeling comfortable in her role toward the end of the season, finally becoming accustomed to the speed of the game.

“I never thought I would be a starter my freshman year,” Fowler said. “It was a struggle. I was afraid every time I would touch the ball it would be a turnover.”

By now, neither of them get rattled by much, Bearden said, which will be comforting when both of them are on the ultimate stage in Austin.

“I think we feel really confident,” McCullough said. “The (seniors) have helped us a lot just to keep our heads up and keep us going.”

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High school basketball

Who: Smyer vs. Dallas Triple A Academy

What: UIL girls state basketball tournament

When: 8:30 p.m. today

Where: Frank Erwin Center, Austin

Records: Smyer 32-6; Triple A Academy 28-5

Live coverage: www.lonestarvarsity.comtext text text

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