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Sports

Alex Riley, Sports Writer 469-517-1456 | alex.riley@wninews.com

Wednesday, April 7, 2010   Ellis County Chronicle   5

Plenty to smile about

Chronicle sports writer Alex Riley sits down with boys basketball coach Preston Foster to talk about the deep run to the playoffs, establishing a winning tradition at Red Oak and the road ahead for the program

Photo by Alex Riley/The Chronicle

Red Oak boys basketball coach Preston Foster shows the bi-district championship trophy to his players following the team’s win over Waco High. The Hawks advanced to the regional semifinals for the program’s deepest playoff run ever.

Q

Q

. Coming into the season, everyone knew that Lancaster was the team to beat in the district. How do you feel you all did in a season where the top team was already set?

. There were also some first-year varsity players who made a big impact. Did some of the seniors’ attitude and work ethic rub off on the younger players?

. Believe it or not we expected this year to be a good year. We had a pretty good season last year, had a lot of kids returning and we had a very good JV group coming up so we knew that this had the potential to be the best team we’d ever had. And so to get to the regional tournament that’s a pleasant surprise. You think you might be able to get there, you want to get there but we’ve never been there before. It was a pleasant surprise but at Photo by Gary Puckett/Special to the Chronicle the same time we expected to do well Dominique Bonner had plenty to celebrate this season as the point guard this year. I knew if everything fell just helped lead the Hawks to a deep playoff run and a second place finish in right we had a chance. the District 15-4A race.

. I would say it goes both ways. Some of the old kids and some of the young kids, some of the young kids were real good leaders and real hard-nosed players. I would think it rubbed off on each other. It wasn’t like the seniors were this, ‘hey, follow me,’ and the young kids were like we’ll do whatever. The young kids pushed the older kids. It worked both ways there.

A

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Q

. This team was loaded down with seniors and veteran players. You relied on them a lot and they seemed to answer the call. How important were those guys to your success?

A

. I think it was very important to them. You’ve got a core group there that’s been around for a while, they’ve done so much for our program and I think that’s one of the reasons why you could never count us out of a game. Midlothian, we got down by nine or 10 points in the first half and there was never any panic or anything like that. It was like they expected to win, they expected to do well. Then you throw in the fact that we’ve got those young kids that are as hard-nosed and fight as much as anyone around. They wanted it, they fought for it and I think they earned the title of the best team we’ve had.

Photo by Alex Riley/The Chronicle

Photos by Gary Puckett/Special to the Chronicle

Seniors like D.J. Brady, left, and Earl Graves, right, were crucial to the team’s success this season. All five seniors who were regular players earned a spot on the all-district team for their efforts this year.

Players, from top, like Claude Person, Casey Hawkins and Branden Hebert gained valuable experience this season and played big roles. Those roles will increase next season.

Q

. Your junior varsity and ninth-grade teams also had pretty good years. How vital will that be for the future of the program?

Q

. When you look back on the year you had, can you say it’s the best season in the history of Red Oak boys basketball?

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. Yes. Every time we challenged the kids, they met the challenge. As far as record wise, that’s the most wins we’ve had and as far as going that deep in the playoffs, that’s the deepest we’ve ever been. Before the season we challenged them. There have been a couple of pretty good teams recently and we challenged them and they met the challenge. I would have to say that they proved on the court that they’re the best team. Photo by Alex Riley/The Chronicle

Photo by Gary Puckettt/Special to the Chronicle

Defensive pressure, like that from senior players Gaylon Edwards and Domonique Bonner was the calling card of Red Oak’s success this season.

Q A

. With a nine-team district looming next season, how important was it to have a big year and build some momentum for the future?

. Just for us, I think it gives us some confidence going in that we can compete with people. We went down to south Texas, we went out to west Texas, we’ve had success in the playoffs, so these young kids they’re going to come in and just expect, they know it’s not just going to happen, we’re going to have to work hard, but they expect it. It’s not like we hope we can or we might be able to. It’s we know we can. Photo by Alex Riley/The Chronicle

A deep bench was a huge ally to the Hawks this season as the squad constantly rotated new players in and out. That experience should help the team next season.

Junior varsity player Jeremiah Gaines was called up during the playoffs and made huge contributions. Expect that to continue.

. I think it’s very important. I don’t think it’s the most important, crucial thing. You can have injuries, grade problems, you can have a lot of things that can keep kids from getting the wins or you can have kids that come out and bust their rearend and do right but they don’t get the wins but they can have success in the future. It sure is nice when you get the wins at the sub-varsity level so that they’re used to it winning, they’re exposed to the winning. So they step up to the varsity and they expect to win also.


Sports

6  Ellis County Chronicle   Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Alex Riley, Sports Writer 469-517-1456 | alex.riley@wninews.com

Photo by Alex Riley/The Chronicle

Red Oak girls varsity basketball coach Melissa Fullmer talks strategy with her team during a timeout this season. Fullmer, in her third season as the varsity head coach, guided the Lady Hawks to their first playoff appearance in five years.

Raising the standard of play Q

Chronicle sports writer Alex Riley sits down with girls basketball coach Melissa Fullmer to talk about the success of the 2009-10 season, ending the playoff drought and what lies ahead for the Lady Hawk program

Q

. With this your third year as the varsity head coach, when you took the job, knowing that it had been so long since the Red Oak girls program had been in the playoffs, did you see this as the timeline for where you would be?

. While there are some seniors leaving, you also get some very talented players back including some starters. Now that they’ve tasted winning, how driven do you see them being next season?

A

. Seeing what we had, I figured that obviously the kind of success we wanted to have would take a few years. To turn it around as quickly as we did was a really good thing for us. I knew that we could. When I was hired, Kiona and Daphene didn’t go to school here, they came in later that summer. With those two additions that helped because Raquel was a junior all the seniors were just juniors and I knew we had a really good shot. I felt like the kids were committed enough and they wanted to win and the couple that were on varsity and even the kids that were on JV it wasn’t any fun at the varsity level. So I knew they had the commitment, I knew we had some skill and some desire so I really thought it was very possible. Last year we won 14 games and I thought we had the chance to win 18 or 20 and this year we were one win from 20. It wasn’t a surprise, I did expect it and I was hoping it would come as fast as it did. It’s been a nice surprise. I was foaming at the mouth when I got the job because I knew the talent and I knew the potential that was here and it was just somebody who would just stick around and coach them hard and let them know that success is their only option. So far, it’s been a lot of fun.

A

Photos by Alex Riley/The Chronicle

Players Daphene Ward, left, and Kiona Robinson, right, moved into the district around the same time coach Melissa Fullmer took over the varsity program. Their addition was huge in the team’s success this year as the duo were two of the best guards in District 15-4A both offensively and defensively.

Q

. Next season, you move into a new gym. How nice was it have a solid season at home and kind of establish a home court advantage?

A

. I think it’s a big key. We were fortunate enough that we went 7-2 at home this year which is not a ton of home games but we were very much a team that you weren’t going to come in and beat. It wasn’t the Red Oak maybe of years past. You’re going to have to earn it to come in and get a win here and I thought we did a great job with that. I think that’s huge for us because we close the doors here with a huge win and a nice sendoff for the seniors and I think it’s a nice way to close the doors at this facility and move into the new facility and that’s one of the things we’ve talked about is opening that place with a bang. It’s our house and nobody is going to come in and walk all over us. I think it’s very key.

. It was really important because just in talking with them they’ve had a taste of it now. For Kiona, fortunately, the last two years she’s been the point guard and with Diamond having a year of experience that will be a huge factor for us because we know that we’re going to need them to provide a lot for us next year. I think Jamie getting experience this year on varsity, I think Gabby being on varsity the last two years those are our top four kids that we have back and we’re going to have to have some JV kids come in and step in probably as sophomores and be on varsity with our numbers and the type of kids we’re looking to have. It’s very crucial because now they know what it takes to win. They know how bad it stunk when we lost that last game, how hard it was and how hard it is to end that season, which unfortunately unless you go all the way to Austin, everybody ends on a kind of a down note. But I think they’re already very driven. I like what I’ve seen in this offseason, what little we’ve had here so far. They’re pushing hard and I think that we’re going to see some really phenomenal individual seasons next year from a couple of our kids.

Q

. Your junior varsity and ninth-grade teams had some success too. In terms of building for the future, what does that do for the program?

Photos by Alex Riley/The Chronicle

Closing out the old gym with a win turned into a huge celebration especially for seniors like Wendy Martinez, top, and Kaitlin Smith, bottom.

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Q

. This group of seniors was extremely vital and they were obviously very important to you as they were your first real class to play three years with you. How much will they be missed?

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. They’re the first group I’ve had since I’ve been here. I had four of them all three years I’ve been here even when I was the JV coach. One of them moved in and the other one was already on varsity. They will be missed very much so. They’ve put in a lot of time, they’re well respected by their teammates. They have made the turning point now, they’re a big part of that turning point, obviously it’s a team effort but having those seniors and the kind of seniors we did who were great role players that were big time players they just knew what to do to help us win and that’s a big thing for us.

Photo by Alex Riley/The Chronicle

Photos by Alex Riley/The Chronicle

Senior leadership, like that from Danyell Harris, left, and Raquel Dent, right, gave the Lady Hawks leadership at crucial times. The senior class set a goal of making the playoffs and raising the level of play in the program.

Photos by Alex Riley and Lezley Norris/The Chronicle

Returning players like Diamond Lockhart, top, and Jamie Conkle, bottom, figure to be key cogs in next season’s game plan.

Junior varsity standout Taylor McCullough was called up for the playoffs and came off the bench to score five points including a big 3-pointer late in the game. Expect more of that from her next year.

. Ever since I’ve been here, my first year here we were 19-7 and then last year they won 25 games and this year they won 23 games. It’s crucial especially since we had four freshmen on that JV team. Having that success and since they practice with us every day and they’ve seen the expectations and a side of me so it’s not going to be just totally mind blowing when they come over next year, for those few kids that do have an opportunity to play on varsity. I think that since they’ve had success at the JV level they don’t want to lose. A couple of them got to dress for the varsity and even played and they know what it takes. They understand now here’s what it takes, here’s the level of play and when coach is pushing us hard we’ve just got to know what’s best for the team. See HOOPS, Page 9

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