Opponents of the current Glen Rose Lady Tigers basketball team know them as a unit that uses speed and quickness to dominate on defense.
Going into the Christmas break head coach Ramsey Ghazal had noted that the Lady Tigers allowed an average of just 25.5 points per game this season. They set a school record for least points allowed in a game on Nov. 27 in a 46-11 win over Tolar, and matched that on Dec. 6 in a 35-11 decision over Waco La Vega.
Then they continued their domination in the Aggieland Invitational Tournament last weekend. They won all five games they played to capture the tournament's Division II championship for the second year in a row, and improved to 22-2. Hailey Ibarra was named Most Valuable Player and teammate Collie Keller was also on the all-tournament team.
Despite a lack of dominant height, the Lady Tigers are “out-rebounding everybody,” said Ghazal, who reached the 400-win mark for his coaching career in 2017.
Their offensive identity this season, however, is still being developed, according to their coach.
“We’re still in the process of figuring out who we are, 15 games in,” Ghazal said. “This team, all-around, is a little ahead of last year in team defense.”
SHOES TO FILL
Last year’s squad set school records in total wins (34) and consecutive wins (23), benefitting from the talents of 5-10 offensive star Ally Andress at forward and three other solid seniors — Sydney Lozier, Kashanna Bryant and Laiken McAnear.
Andress averaged scoring almost 21 points a game last season, and also led the Lady Tigers in rebounding, with 7.9 a game.
Lozier set a school record for 3-point baskets made in a season, with 50, and for 3-pointers in a single game, with eight. Lozier’s 29 percent shooting from 3-point range also was a school record.
“Ally could isolate and get mismatches. That’s not what we are this year — but that doesn’t mean we can’t be effective offensively,” Ghazal said. “This year, we’ve just got to get a little more flow with our offense. We can score points off of the defense getting steals.
“I’ve got a ton of confidence in them. I think other people doubted them.
“We lost four really good seniors (to graduation). I had a lot of confidence in the girls coming back, and defensively they are displaying that. “I think this team is finding itself.”
Despite losing that offensive firepower Andress and Lozier provided, the current Lady Tigers posted the same record as last season through their first 15 games — 14-1.
“That comes from defense,” Ghazal said. “We have a defensive identity. I think other teams are aware of that. We just have to add offensive punch to it to be a complete team.”
Even so, the Lady Tigers had already climbed to the No. 3 spot in the latest Texas Girls Coaches Association’s Class 4A state rankings before the holiday break.
Ibarra, a 5-5 junior guard, is back this season after making a major impact as a sophomore when she gained all-state recognition. She contributed 8.2 points, 4.1 steals, 4.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game last season.
Both Andress and Ibarra were named to the Texas Girls Coaches Association’s Class 4A all-state team.
“It’s good to feel like we’re in the top 10, but we can’t dwell on it,” Ibarra said.
So far this season, Ibarra leads the team in scoring with 11 points per game. Breanna Baker, a 5-9 junior guard, is next averaging nine per outing. This marks the third varsity season for Ibarra, and second for Baker.
“She (Ibarra) made herself an all-state player by taking pride in her defense,” Ghazal said. “She’s been defense first. She’ll shut you down. That’s hard to do. Her work ethic is 100 percent, and Bre Baker is right there, too. Bre is a great defender as well.”
Baker is the leading rebounder this season, averaging seven per game. Her assist rate, four per outing, is almost the same as Ibarra’s.
Last season because of injuries and other circumstances, Ghazal carried just seven players on the varsity squad. The depth has improved, with no fewer than 10 on this year’s roster.
Other starters include Keller, a 5-10 senior; Kora Dodson, a 5-5 junior; and Kennedy Bunt, a 5-10 junior.
The team has only two other seniors besides Keller — 5-9 Presley Grace and 5-8 Emma Sheffield.
Sophomores Abby Stephenson, Hannah Cantwell and Jeana Douglas, along with freshman Hazel Hawkins are also available as varsity contributors.
Dodson, Keller, Grace and Sheffield all suffered injuries that kept them out of action for various lengths of time.
“Our guard play is really outstanding,” Ghazal said. “We really can defend the perimeter well. We take a lot of 3-pointers away from other teams. We take a lot of pride in not fouling. We’re athletic, so that helps.”
“I think some girls on the new team have stepped up to fill the spots, especially on the defensive end,” Baker said. “They picked up really quickly our defensive game. That’s what we are now — people who know us.”
Baker said she worked to improve her game since last season to become more of a scoring threat.
“From last year to this year, I’ve improved my offensive game,” Baker said. “My free throws and 3-pointers have definitely improved from last year, and my rebounding.”
Baker said she aims to raise her game closer to the standard set by Andress.
“I definitely see her as a role model,” Baker said. “I would like to be able to live up to that, play like that.”
Ibarra noted that although the starting crew doesn’t have as much height overall this season, speed and quickness are making a difference.
“That can be a benefit — quickness and transition and how fast we play. I feel like it’s improved,” Ibarra said. “This year, everybody’s role is to score more, inside to outside.”
The Lady Tigers are in a new district this season, with Brownwood, Stephenville, Mineral Wells and Godley. Glen Rose will begin district play today (Jan. 4) at Brownwood, with the varsity set for a 2:15 p.m. start.