Yoakum overcomes odds after losing sharpshooter
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Most coaches experience gut-wrenching moments at some point in their careers.
Shawn Griffin's came just 15 games into his first season as head coach of the Yoakum girls basketball team.
While facing the host team at the Goliad tournament, senior guard Allyson Blakeneny - the second-leading scorer and top 3-point shooter from the Lady Bulldogs' 2010-11 team that advanced to the Class 3A regional semifinals - limped off the court after twisting her right knee.
What initially appeared to be a minor injury was quickly diagnosed as a complete tear of her anterior cruciate ligament and a partial tear of her medial collateral ligament.
When questioned as to what was going through his head after receiving the news, Griffin's memory fragments
"After or before I threw up," the coach said. "I was just devestated."
An understandable response considering Blakeney - one of six players returning for their senior seasons - was a key contributor on a team entering the season with state-championship aspirations, following a 26-7 campaign the prior year.
Going into the game, the Lady Bulldogs were 13-1 with all but one victory being determined by double-digits.
While the news was difficult for Griffin to digest, it was equally hard to swallow for Blakeney.
"I felt crushed," the shooter said.
Blakeney decided to forgo surgery, opting to schedule it after the season, and, for the next six weeks, endured physical therapy up to three times a day, traveling to Shiner routinely for rehabilitation sessions.
Instead of wilting in her absence, however, Yoakum blossomed.
The Lady Bulldogs lost their first contest without Blakeney before embarking on a 10-game win streak, including all six District 28-3A games.
According to Griffin, there was no need to rally his team after the injury.
"They still had confidence," the coach said. "They are the ones who rallied. It was not me, I just kept my poise."
The reason for their success during the span is simple.
"Defense, bottom line. There is no other answer," Griffin said. "Defense, defense, defense."
Only three opponents scored more than 25 points during the time frame.
Perhaps nobody was more instrumental than forward Jaccarri Hights.
In just her sophomore season, Hights leads the teams in blocks per game (2.4), rebounds per game (9.2) and is second in steals per game (3.4), in addition to averaging 7.4 points.
"I'm just doing what I can to show I am capable of playing," Hights said.
Now, with sharpshooter Blakeney, who is averging 10 points and connecting on 35 percent of her 3-pointers (37 of 107), back in the lineup, there is little doubt about the Lady Bulldogs' abilities.
Ranked third in the current Texas Basketball Coaches Association's Class 3A poll, Yoakum (28-2, 10-0) is riding a 14-game win streak and is set to repeat as district champions with two games left in the regular season.
The Lady Bulldogs will attempt to keep their district record unblemished when they travel to Poteet on Friday before wrapping up district play by hosting Houston next Tuesday.
In the first district encounters, Yoakum defeated the teams by a combined 72 points, winning at Poteet by 52 points.
Back at full strength, minus some lingering effects from Blakeney's injury, the unwavering goal of winning a state championship remains at the forefront of the team's collective conscious.
"Nothing has changed, it is still very much our goal," Blakeney said.
Clay Whittington is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361- 580-6507 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.