JEWITT, Texas — In time, Jewitt may be seen as Italy's Actium, the place where Caesar Augustus strengthened Rome after the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra.
From the fall of the Roman Republic in 27 BC until the abdication of the last Western emperor in 476 AD, it took a lifetime to build one of the greatest dynasties the world has ever seen.
There were hundreds of attempts to create what nearly conquered the world, but it wasn't until the first emperor Caesar Augustus, that the dream of many became a reality.
And so it may be with Head Coach Laquita Walker and the girls of Italy, Texas, a hodgepodge of 2A and 5A talent collected under the Italy High School hood and protected by a border of almost 2,000 residents.
The Lady Gladiators, which rolled through two straight teams to reach the third round, fell to upstart Centerville High School 55-41last Tuesday at Leon High School Gymnasium.
Truth be told, though, the "biggest little city in Texas" may have been one player short from a state championship run.
"Without Aarion (Copeland) being healthy, it hurt us on both offense and defense," Walker said. "She led the team scoring with 19 points, rebounding with 14 per game and steals with four per game. When she's not healthy, we lose the momentum that can spark us at a moments notice. It hurts the chemistry and the flow of our game."
Though Copeland scored 13 points — which was well below her average — she was hobbled by a wrist injury incurred during the Italy-Mart matchup. Despite the absence of its fully able and dominating senior force, the Lady Gladiators managed a meager four points in the third quarter and 12 points in the second half while Centerville eeked by with dual 13-point quarters.
Brittany West and Raylynn Brewer, the Lady Tigers' leading scorers, added only 15 and 12 points apiece and the other 10 girls on the court scored seven or fewer points. Only two — Sara Stutzman (7 pts) and Makayla Neubauer (6 pts) — finished with more than five.
While Copeland, Emmy Cunningham (11 pts), Shaniya Johnson (8 pts), Decorea Green (6 pts) and Brycelen Richards (3 pts) all added numbers on the scoreboard, they weren't the same team that dominated Mart High School less than five days before.
Layups and extra points, Walker said, were crucial missteps in their stumble out of the UIL 2A playoffs.
"We didn't finish [at the basket]," Walker continued. "Finishing, having too many turnovers and not getting to the free throw line can make or break any game didn't do well in either field. The game didn't get out of reach until the last two min in the fourth quarter when Centerville was up by 14. They're such a solid and well-rounded team that they were not going to slow down on defense to allow us to gain leverage on them. Not scoring in the last four minutes of the third and the beginning four minutes of the fourth quarter is what hurt us the most and stopped our playoff run. We didn't score a point. A situation like that would be hard for any team to overcome."
The road for Italy is paved with gold rather than rubble, despite losing seniors Copeland, Green, Vanessa Cantu, Lizzie Garcia and 6-foot interior defenders Heaven Lea Browne and Oleshia Anderson. A mixture of youthful vigor, speed and experience may be on the Lady Gladiators side with juniors Cunningham, Richards and T'Keyah Pace returning and freshman and sophomore combination Johnson and Taylor Boyd gaining valuable postseason experience.
While the presence of their "Big 3" will fade in time, others may rise out of the fire of defeat stronger, tougher and saltier. It may be the same turmoil the Roman Legions faced after the reign of Julius Ceasar — when all of Rome was unified and the spread of one of history's greatest empires began to spread.
The famous quote, though, lays heavy on the girls' tounges and has the remaining core committed to improving their game and reaching the final game of the 2018 2A girls basketball season regardless if it's in San Antonio of some other locale.
"We are living by the words 'Rome wasn't built in a day,' Walker said. "There is no way to replace Aarion or Decorea but we still have T'keyah Pace, who by the end of the season was playing defense with a purpose and finishing on the offensive end. She even added a short jumper to her game. We have a lot to work on as a team, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We have the weapons and we're sharpening the tools. Brycelen has one of the nicest 3-point shots I've ever seen and Emmy Cunningham has expanded her game from shooting to three to posting back to basket and scoring down low. Now you have to guard her inside and out. We have some girls that will be moving up that can be game changers on defense, too.
"Shaniya Johnson, our freshman, has a lot of peaking to do but when she does, she will fill some big shoes on this Lady Gladiator team. That's four returning with some younger ones moving up. The Lady Gladiators will come back fighting stronger than ever next season. I wouldn't sleep on us if I were the other teams in our district."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.