When Lawrence Gulette arrived at Marlin as the school’s new girls basketball coach last year, he did what most new coaches would do – he began researching his players.
From the moment he watched Mystique Womack on film, Gulette was impressed. Her talent popped off the screen.
It proved even better in person.
Despite her name, there is no mystique – no mystery or intrigue – about Marlin’s sophomore sensation. It’s plainly evident that Womack can play.
“She stands out on any team she plays on,” Gulette said. “She’s a very unique player in that her skill set allows her to play different ways. There’s not one way to specifically guard her. If you face-guard her, she’s good without the basketball. If we isolate her, she’s great with the basketball. She has the total package – long-range, mid-range, and she’s very aggressive going to the basket, too.”
In just her second varsity season, the 5-foot-8 guard topped Central Texas in scoring with 28 points per game. The District 19-3A MVP also chipped in 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals per contest.
There is no mystique about it – Mystique Womack is the Tribune-Herald’s choice as Super Centex Player of the Year.
Womack started playing basketball at age 5, competing against her older brothers. They didn’t take it easy on her, which fueled her competitiveness and honed any rough edges from her game.
“I’ve been blessed with talent,” she said. “I’ve always played with boys all my life. That made me better.”
Gulette called her “the fiercest competitor I’ve ever been around.”
Despite her unequaled ability to take over a game from a scoring standpoint – Womack upped her scoring average to 35 points per game in the playoffs – she is satisfied to step back at times and embrace the facilitator role. In one early-season nondistrict game, Womack dished out 15 assists.
“Her shot wasn’t falling like it normally was, but she made sure everybody was involved,” Gulette said. “It’s like I told her, you’ve got 15 assists, she said, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘How many you going to get?’ She said, ‘Coach, as many as I can.’”
Womack recognizes the benefit of keeping her teammates involved. She knows that it makes Marlin a tougher team to defend, and just a more dangerous squad overall.
“I love giving it up. I’ll score if I have to,” she said. “Say if we’re down, then I step up and play my role. But when it’s a fun game, I’m going to score my game but I’m going to pass it too and make sure they score.”
Marlin’s strategy revolves around unleashing its guards like gnats on opposing ballhandlers. They’ll routinely apply pressure in the backcourt, looking to rip away steals and turn defense into offense. So, naturally, Womack ends up with her share of breakaway layups.
“She causes it, though,” Gulette noted. “She’s really the center of what we do.”
Womack doesn’t stop sharpening her skills once the offseason arrives. She credits some of her development to her coaches on her Elite 3 AAU team. Her main focus this summer is to improve her footwork. “Then maybe I’ll have even more steals next year,” she said, grinning.
Nearly the entire roster returns next season for Marlin, which won 26 games and reached the area playoffs before falling by a point to eventual state tournament qualifier Buffalo. In addition to Womack, that includes second-team Super Centex standout Dyneshia Bailey, District 19-3A’s second-leading scorer at 19 points per contest.
For Womack, ever the competitor, the 2017-18 season could start tomorrow and she’d be happy. In some ways, it already has.
“I love all of (my teammates). I’m glad to be back with all of them next year again,” she said. “I’m really ready. I wish it were here in just a blink of an eye.”
Womack beat out a formidable collection of skilled hoopers for the Trib’s top honor, including La Vega’s Ta’Naiya Norwood, McGregor’s Mary Graves, Teague’s KaDaja Nickleberry and Rosebud-Lott’s Keauna Whitfield.
COACH OF THE YEAR
CHRIS NICKLEBERRY, TEAGUE
The sound of the horn still haunts Chris Nickleberry’s nightmares.
Nickleberry thought his team would at least get a crack at overtime. But Buffalo’s Jordan Jenkins banked in a 13-footer as time expired in the Region III-3A final, giving the Lady Bison a 48-46 win over Nickleberry’s Teague team.
Two points. That’s how close Nickleberry’s Teague team came to the school’s first state tournament trip.
“I still wake up and hear that buzzer,” he said.
Nevertheless, Teague’s players had no reason to be ashamed. The Lady Lions racked up a 23-6 record on the year and made school history anyway with their first regional tournament apperance. For his sage leadership in piloting the way, Nickleberry has claimed the Super Centex Coach of the Year honor.
“When I took over the program a couple of years ago, we had pinpointed Year Three could be our year, and we could make a run,” Nickleberry said. “We had a fairly young team last year and we went three rounds deep. We lost two seniors last year. We knew our region would be tough, but we knew that we had what it took to make it out of the region.”
Teague gained some confidence with some early-season victories over higher-classification squads. Then the wakeup call sounded. The Lady Lions suffered a nine-point loss to a gritty Kerens team in late December, a game that Nickleberry said forced an increased level of intensity.
The emergence of sophomore post Destanee Roblow made a massive difference. So too did a healthy season for the coach’s twin junior daughters – Ashley and KaDaja Nickleberry. Two years ago, the sisters suffered season-ending knee injuries four months apart.
Chris Nickleberry was most proud of the sweat equity his team accumulated to get better.
“You talk about this every year,” Nickleberry said. “You talk about it in the offseason, you talk about it in the summers. ‘You’ve got what it takes, you’ve got what it takes.’ But those are just empty words. You don’t know. But I knew we put the work in. We did not cheat the grind.”
Teague’s girls kept grinding all the way to the end, as the Lady Lions actually trailed Buffalo by five points with less than a minute left in that regional final before forging a furious rally to tie the game.
Nickleberry said that the ending resembled something out of a movie – slow-motion release and all – and naturally the Lady Lions were crestfallen to see it end that way. But a recent visit from former NFL standout Beasley Reece, a graduate of La Vega High School, helped put things in perspective.
“One thing he said – ‘This won’t ever happen again,’” Nickleberry said. “And that hit personally with me and personally with our kids, that we’re determined to not let that happen again. We lost that game in the last 14 seconds, and we’ll play that back as a reminder that it won’t happen again.”
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
MIANNAH LITTLE, CONNALLY
Shooters aren’t always born. Sometimes they’re made.
When Connally’s Miannah Little was, well, little, she didn’t possess the shooting stroke that she owns today.
“When I first started playing when I was 6 or 7, I couldn’t really shoot that good,” she said. “So after that, my stepdad and my mom, we just started working on it.”
Eventually, the breakthrough came. In her freshman season this year for Connally, the 5-foot-5 guard unleashed a steady array of long-range bombs, emerging as one of the top shooters and scorers in Central Texas, if not all of Class 4A. Little averaged 20.4 points, 6.3 assists and 6.7 steals for the Lady Cadets, winning Super Centex Newcomer of the Year recognition.
It didn’t take much time at all for Connally coach Taylor Sims to give Little a perpetual green light to fire away.
“There were two games that we played in where she made seven 3s in one game and eight 3s in another game,” Sims said. “From that point on, I knew she was going to be the shooter from the outside.”
But Little is more than a 3-point specialist. Sims called her “one of the best ballhandlers, maybe the best, that I’ve ever coached.” He loves the way she can break down a defense, penetrate and kick the ball to other shooters.
The only downside to Little’s freshman year is that it ended far sooner than she wanted. She ended up playing just 19 games due to a broken ankle suffered during Midway’s M.T. Rice Tournament.
“It was really hard. I wanted my freshman year on varsity to be the best year ever,” Little said. “When I got hurt, it was like, ‘Dang, really?’ But I’m really looking forward to my next three years.”
Sims couldn’t help but feel snakebitten at times. Connally lost former Super Centex star Tontyana “TT” Sanders to an ACL injury before the season ever started. At times during the season, Sims would gaze down the bench and see Sanders and Little sitting there and wince over the 45 to 50 points his team had lost.
But his spirit lifts when he considers the promise that awaits over the next three years.
“Looking over there and you’ve got two of your best players on the bench, you think, ‘One of them will be back next year,’” Sims said. “We’re losing a great one in TT, but you’ve got a point guard over there who can do everything.”
Two-time district MVP finished second in area in scoring.
Sharpshooter set several school 3-point records, including 7 in one game.
19-3A MVP led area in scoring, upped average to 35 ppg in playoffs.
Prolific scorer also excelled as stopper, named district defensive MVP.
17-2A MVPaveraged double-double (20 ppg, 11 rpg) for co-district champs.
18-3A MVP provided steady scoring (17 ppg) for regional finalists.
18-3A defensive MVP harrassed ballhandlers with seven steals per game.
TGCA all-star displayed sweet shooting touch from floor, arc or line.
Versatile UTSA signee made plays all over court for 28-win Pantherettes.
17-4A MVP had breakthrough year, tallying 17 double-doubles for Lady Hornets.
Jr, La Vega
District offensive MVP continued her ascension as area’s top frontcourt star.
Four-time Super Centex standout scored more than 2,000 career points.