Westlake’s powerful girls basketball team has almost all the elements needed for a run at the state tournament. The Chaps have several four-year letterwinners, including Texas State pledge Presley Bennett and Texas commit Shay Holle. They boast four players who have started at least three seasons. They possess playoff plenty of playoff experience, having reached the third round in each of the past two seasons.
Yet, says Coach Katie Hensle, "we’re still a work in progress."
The state-ranked Chaps (13-2, 2-0 District 25-6A), the No. 1 team in the Statesman’ Class 6A poll, showed some of that progress in a 72-36 win at Austin High Dec. 3. Westlake leaned on its depth to fend off a talented and aggressive Maroon squad that harbors its own playoff aspirations. Three freshmen guards - Pace Rickard, Syona Mandyam and Peyton Freiermuth - have all been a part of Hensle’s rotation this season, and all three played pivotal roles against Austin High.
"Everyone keeps trying to nail me down on a goal for the year, but out goal is to be the best we can be every day," Hensle said. "Obviously, we have a lot of seniors with a lot of experience. But one of our goals that we need to reach to get where we want to be is to let some of our younger, less-experienced kids come along with us. Tonight, I thought they played really well coming off the bench."
Westlake’s bench accounted for only 15 points, but the reserves brought defensive energy and kept the Chaps’ offense humming. That caught the eye of Bennett, a four-year starter.
"Our depth is what makes this team different from past years," she said. "We have people coming off the bench that are playing really well."
And what advice would Bennett give those freshmen and younger players, considering that she endured the same experience?
"Keep playing," she said. "When you make a mistake, just keep going. You’ll make some freshman mistakes but just keep playing, fight through it, and you’ll be OK."
Bennett looked more than OK while draining all six of her three-point shots en route to a game-high 19 points. Eight of those points came in the first period, when Westlake opened up a 24-7 lead. Bailee Chynoweth and Holle added 14 points apiece, and post Lexi Zurovec added seven points, five rebounds and several moves in the paint that brought her teammates on the bench to their feet.
While Austin High (7-3, 1-1) took its lumps on the scoreboard, the Maroons did flash enough potential to maintain Coach Tricia Hughes’ optimism. The Maroons have just three seniors on a squad that features five sophomores and three freshmen. They handled Westlake’s potent pressing defense for much of the game, and freshman guard Shanel Reid scored a team-high 15 points.
Sophomore Sadie Swift, a 6-foot-1 post, also impressed with seven blocks and six rebounds. The Maroons did suffer a scare when freshman guard Aubrey Reid, Shanel’s twin sister, went down with an apparent leg injury and had to be helped off the court.
"They’ve got some really good young talent," Hensle said about the Maroons. "I thought they came out ready to play, but I expected them to. Her (Hughes’) teams are always going to do that."