When China Spring’s current seniors were in the third grade, one of the dads tabbed several players from the China Spring Youth Association to form a girls select basketball team.
Different players suggested ideas for team names. The one that stuck, though, was the Dream Team.
“It all started a long time ago,” Taylor Webb said. “I don’t really know how it started.”
A decade later, the nucleus of that bunch is still dreaming. Instead of juice boxes and ice cream sandwiches, now they’re dreaming of bringing China Spring a district title, along with hopefully an extended party in the dance known as the UIL Class 4A state playoffs.
Coaches know that some years are going to be better than others. That doesn’t mean that they don’t pour all of their energy into each particular season, only that they recognize that as their core players mature, they’ll get better.
So with a veteran squad of four seniors and four juniors in the rotation for 2017-18, China Spring coach Kristi Mize thought to herself, ‘This is our time.’
“I think in the business you know when the rise and fall is,” Mize said. “I knew there would be a rise by the time they were seniors, with the people that we have, the juniors and seniors, that this would be a great run.
“We don’t get to recruit our kids, we get the kids that we have, and in any year it might be somebody else’s year. But I did feel that we would have a really good chance this year for it to be our time.”
So far, so good. China Spring owns a 22-7 overall record and a 6-1 mark in the hyper-competitive District 17-4A, tied with Lorena for the lead. They’ve done it with a team that isn’t particularly long – the Lady Cougars’ tallest players top out at 5-foot-9 – but is uniquely wide. Not wide in girth, mind you, but rather with shooters – China Spring has the ability to spread teams out and toss in buckets from all angles, with a deep and well-balanced roster of snipers. Eight of the team’s 11 players have scored in double figures multiple times on the season.
Continuity makes a difference, too. Seniors Alex Perkins, Taylor Webb and Abbie Snyder have all played together since those third-grade Dream Team days. Fellow senior Gabby Cleveland has played regularly with that group since the eighth grade. Even the team’s top juniors, like Dream Thomas, Macie Reeves and court visionary Summer Emblem, are multi-year varsity letterwinners.
There’s a certain trust factor when China Spring hits the court.
“We can definitely read each other, we know what’s our best play of the game,” Snyder said. “We just play off of each other really well, knowing each other.”
Perkins fields the point guard position for Mize’s team, and she’s logged enough games with most of her teammates to have an innate feel for when and where to distribute the ball.
“I know pretty well who belongs where on the court, when I should pass it to them and when I shouldn’t pass it to them,” Perkins said. “If Abbie is in the paint, don’t pass it to her then. But Gabby, obviously (yes). Knowing everyone’s place.”
Sometimes Perkins just needs to take the temperature of her teammates. Who has the hot hand? Who is keeping the nets sizzling? Given China Spring’s variety of offensive options, it helps the Lady Cougars cover up for players who may be struggling on a particular night.
“We’re just a lot deeper, and that helps us, because you literally don’t know who’s going to be hitting that night,” Mize said. “Which is kind of a nightmare for you (as a coach), but you also know somebody else is going to step up. You just don’t know who that night. It’s comforting to know that usually somebody does.
In their last outing on Wednesday night, the Lady Cougars didn’t need a Galileo thermometer to notice that the hottest shooting touch belonged to Gatesville’s Rebekah Nolte. The Lady Hornets’ senior guard pumped in eight 3-pointers on the night, helping push Gatesville to a 15-point halftime lead.
But China Spring didn’t pack up their sneakers at intermission. The Lady Cougars whittled the lead down to 10 by the start of the fourth quarter, then put together a fantastic finishing flourish to rally for a 58-55 spirit-lifting triumph.
“Last night, I’m just really proud of us coming out and not giving up,” Perkins said on Thursday afternoon. “That’s the main thing. Even at halftime, being down so far, we all just came back and fought back as a team. It wasn’t really a single person. We just didn’t give up, that’s the main thing, that’s what I’m proud of.”
One game does not necessarily serve as a coming attraction for the main event. But Mize said that she hopes that performances like that comeback against Gatesville can have lasting benefits as the season progresses.
“I think it’s going to be in the memory bank – hopefully we don’t get down – but if we do get down, then, hey, we’ve done this and we can do this,” Mize said. “Then they’ll kind of calm down. I think as long as they have that in the bank and they know they’ve done it before, that’s always helpful.”
Like a rebounder boxing out her opponent, the Lady Cougars have positioned themselves well. And yet nothing is a given. China Spring will take its bye on Friday, then has five more games in the grindhouse of 17-4A, including a season-finale rematch with Lorena on Feb. 6. The Lady Leopards delivered China Spring its only district defeat last Friday, 48-44.
China Spring’s departing seniors want a district title banner almost as deeply as they want their diplomas.
“It’s always been a goal, but I feel like just because it’s senior year I’m really pushing for it and really want to be district champs this year,” Cleveland said.
Mize said that between her team’s district schedule and the non-district opponents it has faced, including those at the Aggieland Tournament in College Station in December, China Spring should be well-prepared once the playoffs roll around.
“I really think we do (have a chance). Especially going through that tournament and seeing what the region has, we’ve seen somebody out of every district in the region except one,” Mize said. “I feel like if we play as a team, we’re hard to beat.”
Hey, when you’ve got a Dream Team, might as well dream big.