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Ibarra gets ‘preferred walk-on’ nod at Tarleton

Mark Wilson
Hailey Ibarra, who earned all-state basketball honors three years in a row while playing for Glen Rose High School, has been given preferred walk-on status as a freshman at Tarleton State University.

Hailey Ibarra already had the credentials to take her basketball skills to the collegiate level — and now she has the opportunity.

Ibarra, who was a four-year starter and three-time all-state performer for coach Ramsey Ghazal’s Glen Rose Lady Tigers, has been invited to be a preferred walk-on player at Tarleton State University in Stephenville.

Ibarra was already enrolled as a freshman studying nursing at Tarleton. While walking on campus recently, she happened to spot Texans’ head women’s basketball coach Misty Wilson. It was from a distance, and they didn’t have a chance to speak to each other at that time.

Last week, she got a surprise phone call from Wilson, inviting her to come out for basketball with preferred walk-on status.

“She knew of me. She called me Thursday last week and asked if I would like to walk on,” said Ibarra, a 5-4 guard who earned all-state honors the past three years with Class 4A Glen Rose. “I was really surprised because I didn’t think I was going to play competitively (in college). I had already made that decision.”

Ibarra said she did not have any previous recruiting contact with Tarleton. But with Wilson’s phone call, Ibarra’s college outlook has suddenly changed. She got her COVID-19 test done and learned on Wednesday that it was negative, so she was looking forward to joining the Texans for her first college basketball practice the following day.

Tarleton’s program, of course, is now moving up from the NCAA Division II level to Division I — making it an even more special opportunity. With Wilson leading the way, the Texans were 21-8 in their final campaign as a Division II program — her third straight 20-win season. The 2020-2021 season will be Wilson’s eighth season as Tarleton’s head coach.

PEDIGREE

“I’m excited, but also nervous,” said Ibarra, one of three seniors along with Bree Baker and Kora Dodson who played key roles in recording an impressive total of 124 varsity wins for Ghazal’s teams at Glen Rose. “I’m happy that I have another chance to play.”

Dodson has chosen to play basketball at the next level at Covenant College, a private Christian school in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. She was on the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Class 4A academic all-state honor team as a senior.

Baker is a freshman at Blinn College. Like Ibarra, Baker earned all-state honors as well as academic all-state status with Glen Rose. Despite leading the successful Lady Tigers in scoring last season, she decided not to continue playing basketball in college.

Ibarra said that because of COVID-19, Tarleton was not able to have its usual open tryouts for potential new players this year, and there were no other scholarship spots available. But if things work out well for Ibarra as a preferred walk-on this season, that could eventually change.

Ghazal, who has earned well over 500 victories in his 18 seasons as a head girls coach and has had players who went on to play at the college level at high-profile schools like LSU and Wichita State, has high praise for Ibarra.

Ghazal described Ibarra as a “prototype” point guard.

“She’s probably the best guard I’ve ever coached,” Ghazal said of Ibarra. “I think it’s awesome (becoming a Tarleton walk-on). She’s going to surprise a lot of people.”

As a senior for Glen Rose, Ibarra averaged close to double digits in scoring, plus six rebounds, five assists and five steals. She won’t be the tallest player on the court, standing 5 feet, 4 inches, but her quickness and tenacity set her apart from many.

“She’s really tenacious on defense,” Ghazal said, adding that there has always been a role for basketball players like Ibarra who can distribute the ball to teammates while also playing outstanding defense.

And Ibarra said she aims to work at improving her outside shooting skills, and make a positive impact on the team.

“I definitely feel like I need to get better on my shooting,” Ibarra said. “I need to work on a faster release, and have a higher shooting percentage.”

She also knows there is other work to do to prepare for the rigors of college competition.

“I definitely kept in shape, I’m just not in basketball shape,” Ibarra said. “I feel like I’ll pick it up pretty quick, and get back in the groove of things. I met a few of the girls today.”

MULTIPLE HONORS

Ibarra made a splash at the varsity level as a freshman at Glen Rose, being voted by the district coaches as the Freshman of the Year. She also earned a spot on the academic all-district team.

She only added to her basketball honors over the next three seasons.

As a sophomore, Ibarra earned the district’s Defensive Most Valuable Player award, and was again on the academic all-district team. She was named as a Class 4A all-state guard by the Texas Girls Coaches Association, and was an all-region pick by the TABC.

Her junior year, Ibarra was voted co-MVP of the district and was again academic all-district. She was also a TGCA all-state pick, and was named to the TABC’s all-region team.

As a senior in the 2019-2020 season, Ibarra was named all-state by both the TGCA and the TABC, all-region TABE, and was academic all-state. And she was co-MVP of the district for a second year in a row.

She said she began to get serious about playing basketball as a seventh grader.

“It’s just something I’ve always had a passion for, since I was little,” said the Glen Rose native. “I just love competing. I feel like I’m a leader. It’s something I’m always going to love.”

Ibarra is living in a dorm on campus, and said she is happy that she will remain relatively close to home, and the emotional support she gets from her parents, Mateo Ibarra and Kathryn Placide. It should be no surprise that Hailey wants to be a nurse, since her mother is a nursing supervisor at Glen Rose Medical Center. She has a sister, Jordyn Placide, who is a sophomore at GRHS. Their older brother, Dylan Ibarra, is a sophomore at Texas State Technical College in Waco.

Hailey Ibarra takes aim at a free throw during a Glen Rose basketball game last season.