By TONY EIERDAM
The 2012-13 Mineral Wells Lady Rams basketball season could only be described as remarkable considering the unique circumstances.
After coming off a 7-25 season from a year ago, the 2012-13 Lady Rams started the season with a new head coach, Ed Shelstead, and four new starters, including three who had never played one second of varsity basketball.
The team finished with a 24-10 overall record and went three rounds in the playoffs, losing in the regional quarterfinals to state-tournament-bound Kennedale.
Senior Niya Benavides was the lone returning starter, and the coach brought with him his two daughters – senior post Sydney Shelstead and sophomore wing Kennedy Shelstead – to join Benavides and varsity newcomers Bethany Allen, a junior playing her first season of high school basketball, and freshman point guard Natalie Ragland.
The Lady Rams had a short roster and every player had a role. Junior Courtney Peña gave the team shut-down defense and a spark on offense; junior post Ashlyn Robinson was a presence down low; and sophomore guards Pamela Hopkins and Riley Bullock provided help on the perimeter.
Despite being a new coach with a new team and with 60 percent of his starters varsity newcomers, Ed Shelstead felt early on he had a team that could have a special season.
“Coming in I knew we had a chance to be really good,” Lady Rams head coach Ed Shelstead said. “Twenty-four wins is good, but I honestly expected our record to be better.
“Once you get to the playoffs anything can happen, but I didn’t think we would go to Austin (state tournament). But what I did know was that we would get into the playoffs and I thought we could win a couple of ball games. But I didn’t think we would go three rounds deep and have a chance to go to the regional tournament with me being new to the program and with four new starters, three of which had never played on the varsity level.
“It was a great season for us, and we accomplished a lot. It was also a blast coaching my two daughters on the same team. Not too many coaches get that opportunity.”
As might be expected, the Lady Rams had an up-and-down pre-district season, finishing 16-5. Included in the 16 wins were championships at the Burkburnett and Italy tournaments, and a third-place finish at the competitive Glen Rose tournament.
“Our non-district season was like a roller coaster,” Shelstead said. “Our low came at Glen Rose (in an early-season game) because after that loss I thought that maybe we weren’t as good as I thought we were.
“They exposed us in a few areas, and it was a downer. But then we played in the Italy tournament and played well against (Class 2A state ranked) Oak Cliff Life, which is a very good team.
“We had up-and-down moments in pre-district games, but that had to be expected with new players learning a new system and a new way of approaching the game.”
The District 6-3A season saw the Lady Rams have little trouble in two-game sweeps over Fort Worth Diamond Hill, Castleberry and Lake Worth. But the Lady Rams lost twice to state-ranked No. 3 Kennedale, but what may have defined their district season were two tough losses to rival Springtown.
Ed Shelstead felt the four games against Kennedale and Springtown helped the Lady Rams in the playoffs.
“There is no question that our games against Kennedale and Springtown helped prepare us for the playoffs,” Shelstead said. “The two Springtown games were heated battles, intense between the kids and coaches.
“Springtown plays a physical style of man defense that forced us to do things we were uncomfortable with. We did not respond well. That doesn’t mean we didn’t play hard, because we always play hard. If I was to grade us on effort for the season I would give us an ‘A.’
“The girls fought hard against Springtown, but offensively they made it difficult on us. We shot less than 20 percent in both Springtown games, and Sydney’s foul trouble in the first Springtown game cinched it for them.
“In the second game I thought we were ready, but again, it was a battle. You have to give those Springtown kids credit – they scrap and fight hard and we came out on the short end.”
In the playoffs, the Lady Rams deposited Vernon, 67-44, in the bi-district round at Olney. In the area championship game, the Lady Rams defeated District 8-3A champion Liberty Hill, 45-41, in a game played at Hamilton.
The Lady Rams faced Kennedale next in the third round at Weatherford. In the closest of the three games played between the two teams this season, the Lady Kats prevailed, 74-57.
“Our tough district games helped us when we got to the playoffs,” Shelstead said. “We overwhelmed Vernon and Liberty Hill, but in the third round we face Kennedale again.
“Kennedale was just so athletic. Their athleticism forces you to do things you don’t want to do. Our Achilles heel was ball-handling against pressure, and Kennedale forced a lot of turnovers.
“Against Kennedale, we shot 22 free throws, 20 which were shot by Sydney. It should have been spread out more than that. That is not the reason we lost, however, Sydney scored 28 points and had 18 rebounds, but Kennedale took away our other players.
“But give Kennedale credit, they are really good. We needed other players to step up, and in the first half that was Bethany Allen. She scored 10 points in the first half, and no question she kept us in that game. But Kennedale keyed on Niya (Benavides) and she struggled a little.
“But in the end, Kennedale wore us down. I think they are good enough to win the state championship (which was played Saturday).”
Ed Shelstead said he was happy with his team’s accomplishments.
“It was challenging at times, because we had so many new players and there was so much to teach,” Shelstead said. “I am very, very pleased and proud of what we accomplished.
“Look at Bethany. This was her first season of high school basketball, and in our most important game of the season she came up huge. Just looking at that one player, she represents how much we improved as a team over the season.
“I felt lucky to coach Sydney and Kennedy, and Niya was just a pure pleasure to coach. She is a great kid from a great family. I felt privileged to have her on my team.
“But I could go down the roster and say almost the same thing about each one of those kids. I am so thankful that they chose to come out for basketball and shared their lives with me for a few months.
“I feel like we accomplished some great things, and I feel like this was a good starting point for the program under my watch.”
With new coach and four new starters, Lady Rams win 24 games, reach region quarterfinals in 2012-13 hoops campaign
By TONY EIERDAM
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