TKG girls meet Westbury in semis

Michelle Obach (left) leads the T.K. Gorman Lady Crusaders against Houston Westbury Christian in a TAPPS 4A state semifinal Friday in Mansfield. (Rachel Anne Seymour | Tyler Morning Telegraph)

MANSFIELD — They laughed, they cried, they cheered, they joked. Then they moved on. There was more work to be done.

T.K. Gorman’s regional victory Saturday might have been cause for ultimate celebration in years past, but these Lady Crusaders want more.

Gorman returns to the court tonight with eyes on the ultimate prize when the Lady Crusaders battle state powerhouse Houston Westbury Christian at 6 p.m. today from Mansfield Legacy High School Varsity Gym in the TAPPS 4A state semifinals.

“We were crying, smiling, laughing, joking around — we were so happy,” TKG senior guard Cori Jo Navarro said of Saturday’s win. “Then we realized we had another week of practice and we had to get refocused on what our ultimate goal is.”

Added junior guard Michelle Obach: “We were all really happy, but I think we all knew that we weren’t content. We weren’t completely happy yet.”

The Lady Crusaders (31-6) beat Houston Second Baptist to make the state final four for the first time since 2009. In that time, little has changed for the Lady Wildcats (22-9), winners of three straight state titles.

But with nine losses, Westbury Christian isn’t as dominant as the last few years, when the school went 116-10 with two seasons with one loss.

“They’re good, they’re talented, they have the foundation, … but they’re not the Westbury they’ve been in the past — they’re beatable,” Gorman coach Katie Robertson said. “It’s a winnable game. 

“Whereas in years past they were just so dominant that I think a lot of teams felt defeated before they even went in, this year I feel like the girls being mentally prepared, they know that they have a chance to win this.”

No Rolle Down Low

Gorman lost 74-46 in the 2009 semifinals to Westbury Christian, whose 6-foot-6 post Waltiea Rolle had 21 points, 16 boards and 10 blocks before going to North Carolina the next year where she started 15 games as a freshman. 

This year there’s no overwhelming force inside. The Lady Wildcats are led by two Division I-caliber guards in seniors Tiffany Davis (signed with South Carolina) and Sylvana Okde (oral commitment to Louisiana-Lafayette). Davis averages 22.4 points, 4.1 assists, 4.5 steals and 6.9 rebounds per game while Okde puts up 15.0 points, 4.1 assists, 2.8 steals and 6.3 boards.

“They don’t have a post going to the University of North Carolina, so it’s a little bit less intimidating,” said Navarro, who played the last two minutes against Westbury Christian as a freshman. “We know we have good posts that are willing to work hard but they’re not exactly the tallest and so when we can have our guards guard some good guards I think that’s when we feel the most comfortable in our defense.”

Westbury Christian won its regional playoff 60-56 over Fort Worth Christian, a team that Gorman lost to 49-44 in a warmup match that most Lady Crusaders would admit wasn’t their best game. So Gorman knows it’s in the same league as Westbury Christian.

“Coming out scared is not an option for us,” junior post Susannah Williams said. “We haven’t worked hard so that we can go play a team in the state championship and beat them by 20 points. We worked hard so that if it’s neck and neck we have the mentality, we have the emotion, we have the knowledge of being able to play smart and going out there and not necessarily outplaying a team but we can outsmart them as well.”

Familiar Road

In 2009, Gorman went through Second Baptist in the regionals and played Westbury Christian in the semifinals. After falling to Tomball Concordia Lutheran in the regionals the last two years, Gorman has the same path this year: Second Baptist and now Westbury Christian.

“It’s a little eerie almost, losing to Concordia twice and beating Second Baptist and now going up against Westbury,” Navarro said. “I think this year it’s a different team chemistry. Hopefully it will be a different ending to the story.”

Navarro and junior Danielle Smith both had sisters on that 2009 team — Sara Navarro and Brie Smith. Danielle Smith said Brie told her she went into the 2009 semifinal thinking Westbury Christian was too good to beat, a defeatist attitude.

“She said that being nervous is good, that means that somewhere in my body I feel like we can win,” Danielle Smith said.

Robertson said she thinks her team will be up to the challenge.

“I’m hoping they just see it again as extra motivation since they were the ones that stopped us before so we can push through and get past it,” Robertson said.

Player To Coach

A major difference between this year’s squad and the 2009 group is that this Gorman team is no Cinderella — these Lady Crusaders expected to be here since the end of last season.

Much of that is due to the coaching of Robertson, who took over the team last season after Gorman had two successful years with Larry Hargett.

Robertson, a 2002 Brownsboro High School graduate, played college ball at Oklahoma State and finished at Midwestern State. She went through grad school at Baylor before opening the Anytime Fitness gym in Chandler where she starts her days early in the morning as a personal trainer.

“I’m teaching boot camps at 5 in the morning — I mean, I have long days,” Robertson said. “I’ve enjoyed juggling it all. 

“I’m a part time coach at Gorman, but I don’t feel like I’ve put in part time hours. I really try to dedicate as much as I can to this program and these girls.”

Robertson actually hadn’t planned on getting into coaching out of college, but had some free time while the Anytime Fitness was being built and ended up taking the eighth-grade girls basketball gig at Gorman, coaching the 2013 class that includes current starters Obach, Williams, Smith and Allie Buzbee.

“I never intended on coaching; I was burned out on basketball from playing in college,” Robertson said. “It’s been a challenge and I’ve loved teaching the game, but more importantly I’ve just really developed a relationship with these girls and that’s the part I’ve enjoyed.

“I never expected or intended on coaching, but God has a plan and it’s worked out.”

While many star athletes struggle to teach as coaches, Hargett said he could tell Robertson didn’t have that problem and asked her to be his JV coach starting in 2009.

“Katie could do everything as point guard,” Hargett said. “She’s also got the patience to work with the players that need to be developed. She understands how to do that. Some coaches never understand that.”

Hargett said the two are best of friends now and he’s enjoyed watching her develop as a coach, adding that the way she’s molded the team together and created camaraderie between players and coach is a “thing of beauty.”

For the Lady Crusaders, the most beautiful thing will be winning two games this weekend. The winner of today’s game plays either Trinity Christian-Cedar Hill (22-9) or Lubbock Trinity Christian (27-12) in the final on Saturday at 4 p.m.

“It’s exciting; this is our year, I think,” Williams said. “We all expected it, but in a way it’s still completely unexpected that we’re here. 

“We went and played regionals and we played, we celebrated afterwards, we got on the bus and came back home and went back to practice, back to our normal routine. Because the state game is just like any other game, but in the end someone’s going to be No. 1 and someone’s not.”

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