Martins Mill's Haily Jenkins is no stranger to the state basketball tournament. But the senior's final trip to Austin will no doubt be the most fulfilling.
That's because the star guard has spent the entire season recovering from an ACL injury, which she suffered after last year's run to the state finals. She started this season slowly and playing gingerly, but has returned to thrashing opponents the past month or so — making her almost unstoppable.
"I was pushing through it and making more of life than basketball, knowing God was on my side the whole time," Jenkins said. "He had my back and gave me the courage. It's gotten me to where I am today."
On Thursday morning, No. 1 Martins Mill (32-5) meets Snook (24-11) in the UIL Class 1A Division I state semifinals at 10 a.m. at the University of Texas' Frank Erwin Center. The winner will meet either No. 17 Dallas Triple Academy (28-5) or 11th- ranked Smyer (32-6) in the championship game Saturday morning.
Jenkins, who has signed a national letter of intent with McNeese State, suffered the serious knee injury during a select basketball game last April 15. It occurred as she drove the lane and planted to elevate toward the basket, but the result was a torn left-knee ligament.
The injury wiped out her ensuing offseason and negatively affected her recruiting process, which was in full-steam entering her final year in high school. Jenkins was slowly worked back into the lineup as the season unfolded, mostly hanging around the arc and using her 3-point shooting abilities.
There were mental issues to overcome as well, which athletes experience when recovering from serious injuries. That's because the fear of re-injury is a heavy presence on their minds.
"It's a mental thing," Martins Mill coach Doug Barncastle said. "They get nervous because they don't want contact. We've had a few discussions about we are going to not be so afraid and try and get in there and make things happen."
Fear seems to be a thing of the past.
Last weekend, Jenkins enjoyed one of her best performance of the season in Martins Mill's 70-34 victory over Slocum in the Region III championship game at Tyler Junior College's Wagstaff Gymnasium. With her full repertoire available, Jenkins scored 20 points in the first half alone en route to a game-high 30 to help the Lady Mustangs reach state for the eighth consecutive season.
"She was a little hesitant to get into the paint and make things happen, but she did that (today) and we needed that," Barncastle said. "We needed her to be a next-level player for our team not only in her actions, but in her leadership getting her team going and getting them excited."
How does Jenkins feel about helping get her team back to state?
"It's the most amazing feeling to know we worked so hard as a team and pushed through everything together," she said.
Notes: Martins Mill has won two state titles during the eight-year streak of consecutive state appearances. The Lady Mustangs captured the crown in 2005-06 with a 61-30 win against Slocum and in 2007-08 with a 48-43 win against Sudan. Martins Mill has fallen in the past three state finals, losing to Smyer in 2009-10 and '10-11 and Sudan last season.