NAVIGATING ROAD BLOCKS

in Basketball

Despite repeated stalls by Covid-19 shutdowns, the Clifton Lady Cubs attempt to climb back into District 17-3A girls basketball race

CLIFTON — Finally returning to action following 18 days of inactivity dealing with on-again, off-again Covid-19 precautions, the Clifton Lady Cub girls basketball team hit the court running in hopes of climbing back into the District 17-3A race.

After resuming district competition with an overwhelming 43-18 victory over the Riesel Lady Indians Jan.  2 at Clifton High Gym, the Lady Cubs (1-2 in district, 3-8 overall) fell to postseason favorite Troy, 72-24, on the road last Tuesday before having their makeup game at Whitney scheduled for Saturday postponed again until Jan. 23.

“I feel we can be competitive within our district,” said Clifton girls basketball head coach Whitney Holdbrook before traveling to West to take on the Lady Trojans (0-3, 1-9) Wednesday. “The team has a lot of talent. I believe our team will get better with every game we play, gaining experience and confidence at this level.”

Against Riesel (0-4, 1-8), the Lady Cubs jumped out to a commanding 17-6 first quarter lead before building a 31-8 advantage before intermission. Freshman point guard Laylah Gaona led Clifton with 16 points and five steals, followed by Meagan Henderson with seven points and seven rebounds, while Kate Humphreys topped the Lady Cubs with eight boards and Kasandra Gaona grabbed six steals.

“The team showed a lot of intensity on defense,” Holdbrook said. “I was really proud of our defensive execution having been off since Dec. 15.”

But it wasn’t the first time the Lady Cubs found themselves quarantined by Covid-19 precautions. After opening the season with a three-game losing streak, the Lady Cubs went into a 14-day Covid-19 shutdown Nov. 17.

“We are a young team only returning three varsity players from last season,” Holdbrook said as the Lady Cubs opened the season. “The girls are gaining experience and knowledge with every game that we get to play. Each of our three games so far I have seen significant growth from each player. They are learning a new speed of the game and learning to work together as a team. 

“I fully expect for this group of girls to continue to grow throughout this season. They are eager to learn and compete every day, whether it is practice or a game.”

Upon returning from their first shutdown due to Covid-related issues, the Lady Cubs dropped their first two games, losing to Bruceville-Eddy, 56-27, Dec. 1 before falling to Moody, 48-30, Dec. 4.

“The shutdown had a big impact on the team,” Holdbrook said. “I felt the team was starting to figure things out and learn to work together and adapt to the speed of varsity basketball. And then, we were shut down for 11 days. So when we came back, we had to catch back up and that took some time.”

Clifton snapped the season-opening five-game losing streak in dramatic fashion, taking down the Crawford Lady Pirates, 33-29, Dec. 5. Kynli Bearden led the Lady Cubs with nine points, nailing three of eight from the three-point range, while April Rowlins came up with a team-high seven steals.

“The Crawford game was a defensive battle,” Holdbrook said. “Offensively, we hit some big shots  at needed times.  Carley Caniford had a steal and layup at the end of the fourth quarter that sealed our win by  giving us a four-point lead.  Kynli hit some big three-pointers, and April played a great defensive game.”

Carrying that momentum into the next game, the Lady Cubs made it two-in-a-row by overwhelming the Class 4A Hillsboro Lady Eagles, 48-20, Dec. 8. Freshman post Brianna Gonzalez  led Clifton with 14 points and six rebounds, while Laylah Gaona followed by 11 points, sinking eight of eight from the free throw line.

“In the Hillsboro game, I believe the team played with more confidence on offense, and everyone was looking for ways they could contribute, whether that was with points, assists or rebounds,” Holdbrook said. “Brianna had a standout game, and Laylah played a great game handling the ball and setting the team up in our offense.”

But the Lady Cubs dropped their final non-district game to Valley Mills Dec. 11 before opening District 17-3A competition with a 53-24 loss at home against 20th-ranked and league-leading Lorena (5-0, 13-5). And then, the Clifton girls were shut down again, seeing a district game against Whitney getting postponed before cancelling a non-district game at Lake Belton before taking a break for the Christmas holidays.

“The girls played hard against Lorena,” Holdbrook said. “Our defensive effort was great. Offensively, we struggled to make shots. In all, I am proud of this team and the effort they give every day. They are building on what they know and are finding a rhythm as a team.”

Photos by DAVID HARDING

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