West Texas high schools fuel successful DII women’s programs

Photo courtesy Angelo State Athletics

West Texas high schools have long dominated the UIL girl's basketball state championships behind the legendary success of programs like Nazareth, Amarillo and Canyon.

So, It should not come as a surprise the 2023 NCAA Division II women’s South Central Regional had a distinctly West Texas feel last weekend. UT-Tyler’s thrilling double-overtime victory in Rebecca Alvidrez’s second year with the Patriots against Lubbock Christian marked the first time since 2013 that a school from West Texas will not be in the Elite Eight.

The last eight Division II women’s basketball tournaments had either Lubbock Christian or West Texas A&M attending. The Lady Chaps won three national titles during that span. 

LCU head coach Steve Gomez earned his 500th career victory in the semifinals of the South Central Regional and has averaged 25 wins a season during his 20-year career with the Lady Chaps.

West Texas A&M is led by Josh Prock, who led the Lady Buffs to the Elite Eight last year after building a winning program at arguably the toughest location in the Lone Star Conference at Eastern New Mexico. Before joining the Greyhounds, Prock won 108 games as head coach at Howard Payne.

This year’s regional was held in San Angelo, where Alesha Ellis guided the Rambelles to the top seed and host in her second season at the helm. Before arriving in San Angelo, Ellis led Wayland Baptist to the NAIA tournament in all eight seasons while winning at least 19 games each year.

Gomez, Prock, and Ellis own a combined 987 wins in 45 seasons (21.9 wins per season), with a focus on recruiting high school players from West Texas. Gomez and Ellis are products of West Texas high schools at Lubbock Cooper and Plainview, respectively. All three coaches attribute a large part of their success to the area high school coaches.

“I’ve always said that West Texas high school basketball is a gold mine,” Ellis said. “It means the world to me to be in the middle of this area. I grew up in this area, and the coaches in this part of the state are very good and teach the right stuff. I recruit a lot from West Texas because we want winning mentalities, and they know how to win.”

“The key for us has been getting quality kids from great programs that have been coached well,” Gomez added. “We’re not transforming anything. We’re just getting kids and putting them together. When they like each other, they play harder.”

Prock says a key to each program’s success is the quality of players they receive from high schools in West Texas.

“What I love about recruiting players from West Texas high schools is that you are recruiting high-quality individuals that are coachable,” Prock said. “The players arrive with a tremendous knowledge of the fundamentals and are able to immediately compete for playing time.”

“We don’t have to run a skills development clinic every day with these players,” Gomez said. “We focus on getting our team to work together because the developmental skills have already been taken care of by the high school coaches.”

Angelo State standout Sawyer Lloyd played at Wall High School for Tate Lombard, now at Canyon, and credits Lombard for instilling the mentality needed to be successful in college.

“The winning mentality was a big thing playing for coach Lombard at Wall. I relate well with coach Ellis because they have similar coaching styles,” Lloyd said. “Both of them have a winning mentality, and they know how to push us to get the most from us.”

“My high school coaches spent a lot of time teaching us how to work hard and rebound. We also did a lot of running,” Lloyd’s teammate Tay Pleasant said of her time at Amarillo Tascosa. “They made sure we had the things we needed in our bag to be successful, and Coach Ellis is the same way.”

The relationships that many high school players develop with their coaches continue after they’ve left campus. Lone Star Conference Player of the Year Grace Foster had a special visitor from her time at Childress during the Lady Chaps championship game.

“One of my high school coaches was here tonight, so it was fun seeing him,” Foster said. “I thank them for allowing me to be confident and giving me the green light to learn in the big moments. I’m not afraid of the big moments now because of my experience in high school. They taught me how to fight through double teams because I faced a lot of those in high school too. They taught me how to fight through it and make the right pass.”

Maci Maddox has two other siblings that played collegiate athletics at LCU, and the standout guard credits her coaches at Frenship for assisting her in achieving her dream of playing for the Lady Chaps.

“It helps when you have coaches that believe in you. My high school coaches encouraged me and knew my dream was to play college basketball at LCU,” Maddox said. “They encouraged me to play here, and they said great things about the coaching staff and the school. Everything my high school coaches told me is true. It’s been amazing here.”

Idalou High School product Shaylee Stovall said it helped her choose to play for the Lady Chaps because she had developed relationships with her teammates during their high school playing days.

“I had great high school coaches and great teammates who supported me. I learned early how to play together with people, and that’s been something that we continue to develop in college,” Stovall said. “I played against Maci a lot in high school, and it’s been awesome being on the same team with her. One reason I came to LCU was that I wanted to be teammates with these awesome people that I played against in high school.”

Gomez believes another advantage provided by West Texas high schools is recruiting multi-sport athletes.

“It’s a different mentality with the players from West Texas high schools. A lot of these kids only play basketball for their high school team,” Gomez said. “They’re not overdoing individual trainers or having too many voices in their heads. They listen to their high school coaches, and they get in the gym and work on their game.

“These days, too many kids are playing all summer and never improving their skills in the gym. Playing five games in a weekend can cause a player not to value a game as much, and that’s a big deal.”

Gomez says that West Texas players have another advantage not found in many of the metro areas of the state.

“It’s also West Texas, and there aren’t as many entertainment options or other distractions, so they go to the gym and shoot,” Gomez.

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