Last season, the Rockport-Fulton High School Lady Pirate basketball team went from playing two straight seasons without a postseason berth, to district champions and a third round playoff appearance.
It was a dramatic shift from a 5th place finish in the 2019-20 season to a 1st place finish in 2020-21. It was also RFHS’ third coach in as many years removed from their last postseason appearance.
Now in her second season as RFHS head girls basketball coach, Morgan Hale returns a team with every starting player back and only one bench player lost from the year prior.
The team has played a tumultuous schedule up to this point in the season, boasting an overall record of 18-6. At this point last season, the team had only played around 15 games total. In order to play the much tougher teams RFHS will face come the postseason, Hale said she purposely scheduled a brutal non-district schedule for the girls to contend with.
RFHS is currently ranked #21 in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches 4A girls poll and are riding a four-game win streak.
Just as they did last season, RFHS will rely heavily on their version of the “big three” in senior power forward Kaylee Howell, senior forward/center Lilith Solis, and junior point guard Jordan Malone.
Howell was last season’s District 26-4A Most Valuable Player (MVP) and an All-South Texas First Team recipient. Howell spent the offseason elevating her game even more and recently signed to play basketball at the Division I level for the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.
“Kaylee’s just really grown up over the summer as far as leading and making sure she’s holding herself to a high standard,” said Hale. “She’s traveled all over the country playing AAU ball in preparation for the season.”
Malone was last season’s District 26-4A Offensive-MVP and an All-South Texas Third Team recipient. Hale said Malone has been on a relentless mission to improve her game since the teams third round playoff loss.
“Jordan’s improved just seeing the floor, but I think she’s improved mostly in shooting the ball,” said Hale. “She got in the gym this summer and shot the ball thousands and thousands of times and I think its showing.”
Currently, Howell and Malone are tied this season for the most individual points in a game at 31. Malone hit seven 3-point FG’s to get to 31. Both players are vying for a shot to break RFHS’ single game point record of 35.
Solis took a huge step in elevating her game last season, leading to a 26-4A First Team All-District nod averaging more than 10 rebounds and eight points per game. Hale said Solis has heavily improved her game on the offensive end over the summer.
“She’s become more of a scorer for us, not just a hard worker who rebounds well. We’re looking to get her the ball more,” said Hale.
The team consists of six seniors, three juniors, and one sophomore.
Seniors are Howell, Solis, point guard Mikayla Molina, guard Alyssa Garcia, forward Audra Jones, and guard Makayla Guerrero.
Hale said almost every player played on an AAU team over the summer.
“I don’t think we’ve had that in Rockport for a long time,” said Hale.
One player Hale said has benefitted a lot from playing AAU ball is Garcia.
“She’s always been a good defender and rebounder for us, but she’s definitely more aggressive offensively after traveling all over Texas,” said Hale.
Molina has slowly worked her way back from an injury, but when healthy she is RFHS’ best perimeter defender. She also received First Team All-District last season.
“She does things that don’t always show up in the stat line, but if you’re an offensive player, you don’t want her (Molina) guarding you,” said Hale.
Jones and Guerrero normally come off the bench but are used at times for their size and length against bigger teams.
“They help on the boards to rebound and box people out,” said Hale. “They also help us schematically to match up with some teams. Sometimes we need to go small, but the fact that I’m able to put Audra in and move some people around for us to play in a bigger lineup really helps us down the road when we start seeing bigger teams.”
Juniors are Malone, Messiah Hernandez, and Alexia Herrman.
Hernandez provided a huge spark off the bench last season, especially late in RFHS’ postseason run. She was voted last seasons Sixth Man of the Year in the district for her timely 3-point jumpers that helped power RFHS’ offensive attack during their 21-game win streak.
“She’s the one that just shocks people and she’s continued to get better over the summer,” said Hale.
Herrman provides an offensive spark off the bench for RFHS as well but has been dealing with an injury as of late.
And last but not least, the lone new player for RFHS this season, sophomore guard Emma Groseclose.
Hale said Groseclose is a coach’s dream and has made a great addition coming off the bench this season.
“She’s a perfectionist and she’s going to outwork everybody, whether that’s her teammates in practice or the opposing team,” said Hale.
RFHS’ assistant coaches are Melissa Reyes and David Rice.
The Lady Pirates will continue their district schedule at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 4 at West Oso.