The build up to the 2012-13 Bishop Gorman basketball season began in 2008, when Lady Crusaders like Michelle Obach, Susannah Wislliams, Danielle Smith and Allie Buzbee were eighth graders playing under Katie Robertson.
Those players are now seniors; Katie Robertson is in her third year as head varsity coach.
And the Lady Crusaders are no longer playing for city championships, they're playing for state.
Bishop Gorman enters the season as heavy favorites to again win TAPPS 2-4A, as the team has done in unbeaten fashion the last two years.
The Lady Crusaders, who have won four straight league championships, are also among a handful of teams hopeful of winning a state title. Gorman fell in the state semifinals last year to Houston Westbury Christian, which went on to win its fourth straight crown.
"Every year we get a step closer," Robertson said. "For them to have that experience last year at the state tournament, it's just fed their hunger to win the state championship."
During this offseason, Robertson has used the loss to Westbury Christian to motivate her players. She's also switched up the way the Lady Crusaders train.
Using her background as a personal trainer, Robertson has opted to go with more speed, agility and body weight exercises over the weight room workouts of the past.
"I think they have responded to it well," she said.
A starter since her freshman year, Obach once again will spearhead Gorman on offense and defense. She averaged more than 20 points per game last year and defending district MVP two times running. Obach recently committed to play at Merrimack, an NCAA Division II college in Massachusetts where Robertson thinks she can make an impact right away.
"It was something she knew she wanted to decide before the season because she didn't want that to be a distraction," Robertson said. "For her to decide, you can tell that burden is lifted off her."
Williams and Smith, both returning for their third year as starters, will be vital to Gorman's success this year as Robertson is stressing post play.
Buzbee, who started last year, will again join Obach in the back court, as will junior Brooke Lee, who replaces two-time district defensive player of the year Cori Jo Navarro in the starting lineup.
The Lady Crusaders have built a strong chemistry between players and coach over the five years they've worked together. Gorman hopes to parlay that experience into an historic season.
"I have been able to develop a relationship with them," Robertson said. "It works like clockwork now.
"It's tunnel vision now. They're completely committed."
While Gorman is focused on a long season, Robertson said the team can't look past anyone in their district, starting with Trinity Christian-Cedar Hill, a fellow state finalist last year.
Grace Community will always give Gorman a good game, though the Lady Cougars will not have coach Jeff Smith on the sidelines for the first time in more than a decade. Robyn Welch, a JV coach for the last 10 years, takes over for Smith, now the athletic director at Gorman.
Because of a new TAPPS 2-4A format where the now nine teams play each other once prior to a district tournament, Grace and Gorman scheduled a non-district game for Dec. 14.
The Lady Cougars lost their top defensive (Olivia Moharer) and offensive (Megan Strnadel) players, but will return veteran seniors Rebekah Provines (four-year starter) and Catherine Rook (second-team all-district last year).
Junior Megan Raborar will enter her third year as a starter for Grace, and Welch said freshman Parker Daughtry will add a good dynamic to the team.
Other contributors for Grace will be sophomores Taylor Kingsley, Bethany Kimmey, Kandice West and Kylie Stinson.
Grace finished third in district last year and expects to build on the success the school had under coach Smith.
"We have a great group of players who are working hard and desire to play together to help rebuild a great basketball tradition at Grace," Welch said. "We are a young team, which makes me excited for the future of Grace women's basketball."
All Saints will also hope to be in the mix. The Lady Trojans will be without three starters from last year, but junior Kelcee Harwood is one of the district's top scorers, pouring in 17 points per game.
All Saints is young and inexperienced, second-year coach Karen Lanford said, with five freshmen, three sophomores and two juniors. But they're coachable.
"We're young and we're going to focus on improving each day in practice," Lanford said. "They're showing a lot of heart and want-to to get better."
Head Coach: Katie Robertson
2010-11 Record: 31-7 (14-0 TAPPS 2-4A, first place)
Postseason: Lost to Houston Westbury Christian, 82-64, in state semifinals.
Players to watch: Michelle Obach, Sr. G; Susannah Williams, Sr. P; Danielle Smith, Sr. P.
Season outlook: The Lady Crusaders haven't lost a district game the last two years and each season they've advanced a step further in the playoffs. This year for Gorman it's state championship or bust. The core of the team has been with coach Katie Robertson for five years, giving the players and coach an unprecedented bond. The team knows what it takes and with a difficult schedule (including UIL Class 4As John Tyler and Marshall, as well as traditional powers Liberty-Eylau, Martins Mill and Neches), Gorman hopes to build toward a year to remember. Obach will again lead the way after averaging more than 20 points per game last year. She's committed to NCAA D-II Merrimack.
Quoteworthy: "I think with the experience of making it to state last year, really getting a taste of what that's like, they're extremely motivated to make it to the state championship game and to win it." — Coach Katie Robertson.
Season Opener: Bishop Gorman at Marshall, 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Head Coach: Robyn Welch
2010-11 Record: 16-14 (9-5 TAPPS 2-4A, third place)
Postseason: Lost to Tomball Concordia Lutheran, 49-25, in area round.
Players to watch: Rebekah Provines, Sr. G; Catherine Rook, Sr. G, Meagan Raborar, Jr. G.
Season outlook: The Lady Cougars enter a new era after longtime coach Jeff Smith moved to rival Bishop Gorman to become the athletic director. Welch, a 10-year JV coach and assistant, will give Grace continuity on the bench. Provines, Rook and Raborar, mainstays the last two years, will be relied upon as the Lady Cougars look to take down district-favorite Gorman. Provines is a four-year starter who averaged 3.8 assists and 2.8 steals per game last year. A handful of sophomores and freshman Parker Daughtry will be called upon to step up after last year's top offensive player and defensive player both graduated.
Quoteworthy: "As I've told each player this year — you can't build pillars if the foundation has not been laid. The Grace basketball coaching staff is working very hard to develop a great, fundamentally sound program with fundamentally sound teams." — First-year coach Robyn Welch.
Season Opener: Grace at Bullard, 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Head Coach: Karen Lanford
2010-11 Record: 16-17 (7-7 TAPPS 2-4A, fifth place)
Postseason: Did not qualify.
Players to watch: Kelcee Harwood, Jr. SG; Gabby Bosworth, Jr. G; Sydney Barrett, So. PG
Season outlook: After missing out on the playoffs by one game last year, All Saints faces a rebuilding season with the loss of three starters. The Lady Trojans will be young, but junior guard Kelcee Harwood returns as All Saints' leading offensive threat. Junior Gabby Bosworth is a team captain, but the rest of the squad of 10 is comprised of three sophomores and five freshmen. Sophomores PG Sydney Barrett, P Sarah Smith and Madison Parks will be relied on to help bring the freshmen along. Harwood averaged 17 points per game as a sophomore and is capable of carrying the scoring load, though defenses will be sure to key on her. All Saints should improve as the season goes on and hopes to peak by the time the district tournament rolls around.
Quoteworthy: "We're in a rebuilding stage. This is a really good group. They believe in the program and want to see it continue to grow and flourish. We do expect to have great victories. If the victories don't come in wins, the victories will come in the improvements we make in our game." — Coach Karen Lanford.
Season Opener: Ovilla Christian at All Saints, 6 p.m. Friday.
Bullard Brook Hill
Head Coach: Ricky Clements
2010-11 Record: 11-12 (4-6 fourth in TAPPS 4-3A)
Postseason: Lost to Ovilla Christian, 49-37, in bi-district round.
Players to watch: Riley Williams, Jr. P; Samantha Anderson, So. P; Alyssa Eden, Sr. G.
Season outlook: The Lady Guard return four all-district players, including first-teamers Williams and Anderson, from last year's playoff team. Williams put up 7.3 points and 11.1 rebounds last year while Anderson added 9.2 points and 10.9 boards in her freshman campaign. Eden was the team's leading scorer. Eden was a second-teamer with now-junior Morgan Fore, who led Brook Hill with 2.8 steals per game. The Lady Guard also have the services of Desarae Rowan and Hayden Langemeier, who earned honorable mention a season ago.
Season Opener: Brook Hill at Dallas Shelton, 5 p.m. Friday.
East Texas Christian Academy
Head Coach: Kate Norris
2010-11 Record: 15-7 (4-0 TAPPS 3-1A, first place)
Postseason: Lost to Plainview Christian, 54-51 (OT), in area round.
Players to watch: Amy Riggle, Sr. P; Sr. Courtney Craig, Sr.; Carissa Zubro, Fr.
Season outlook: The Lady Panthers will have to deal with the graduation of Samantha Phillips — a first-team all-state guard and the team's leading scorer — as well as six of their top seven players from last year, including five first-team all-district selections, three named to the all-state team. Riggle is the only returning starter. Kate Norris, a 2005 ETCA alum, takes over as head coach after serving as an assistant under her former high school coach, Diann Preston. The Lady Panthers will be boosted by three seniors who decided to play this year: Courtney Craig, Shannon Stewart and Lauren Smitherman, as well as returning senior Mary Lightfoot. Norris said she expects good things from freshman Carissa Zubro, younger sister of all-district post Holly Zubro. ETCA will be competing in a higher classification this year, having moved up to TAPPS 2A from 1A, meaning a new district of teams to learn. But the Lady Panthers have some height with Stewart and Riggle, something they lacked last year.
Quoteworthy: "We will have to play some good defense this year. Everybody's going to have to step up (on offense)." — Coach Kate Norris on replacing leading scorer Samantha Phillips.
Season Opener: Fruitvale at ETCA, 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13.