Lady Longhorns Defeat Mansfield Lake Ridge
Cedar Hill Lady Longhorns basketball coach Nicole Collins celebrated her 250th career victory Tuesday night. The milestone came with a 59-31 home victory against Mansfield Lake Ridge. In typical Collins fashion, she was humble and passed the credit to those around her.
“I honestly cannot believe I have been coaching that long, but I’m so thankful to have been blessed with talent over the years, as well as so much support from our administration,” she said. “We have had an incredible group of student-athletes that bought into our system and what we are trying to do here at Cedar Hill, which has allowed that type of success in such a short amount of time.
“The words that come to mind in regard to these milestones are ‘unbelievable’ and ‘blessing’. I’m big on trusting the process and believing it will lead to the destination you are focused on, and we are doing just that at this point.”
The process is definitely working for Collins and her team. Among her coaching success (following a standout career as a player at Baylor) is being named a Dean Weese Coach of the Year in Class 6A by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches in 2020, along with leading the Lady Longhorns to at least the third round of the playoffs in each of the past eight seasons.
Solid Bench With Grit & Tenacity
She was also an assistant coach on the 2009-10 squad that reached the state finals. Her sights, of course, are set on doing one better than that team. She sees elements on this season’s team that remind her of back then.
“That 2010 team had a balanced attack from all positions including the bench. It included a total of seven eventual NCAA Division I players,” Collins recalled. “Our current team is the same. We have all positions covered, including a solid bench. We are just a little younger in experience. But we have the grit and tenacity to win big games and make a deep run in the playoffs.”
And so far this season, no game has been bigger than their recent 81-72 home victory against perennial power Duncanville, which ended this past week ranked No. 14 nationally and No. 8 in the state. The victory, the Lady Longhorns’ first over the Pantherettes in a dozen years, vaulted them to No. 7 in the state, but more than that it gave them a confidence boost unlike any Collins has seen before.
The Goal: Win State
“Most of the time, I would say that it was just one game, but it was not. That game helped bust through the glass ceiling that was over our program,” she said. “We have always been extremely competitive but beating Duncanville and all that their program represents for girls basketball in the state of Texas solidified for our kids that we can play with and beat anyone – that state is attainable and achievable.”
And winning state has been the goal since the season started, Collins reiterated.
“I intentionally put together an extremely tough schedule because we needed to be battle tested. And early on, we were not passing the test. However, now they are stepping up and making better decisions, getting stops when needed, communicating on the floor and playing as a true team,” she said. “That is the beauty of our profession – seeing the growth in your team from beginning to end and knowing you are a part of helping to make that happen. We just have to continue down the path we are on.”
Several players on this season’s team were on the 2020 squad. That group reached the regional finals before falling to Duncanville, who went on to win state. That experience is paying huge dividends now, Collins said.
Playing in the District of Doom
“I believe that experience was vital. That got to be a part of seeing the preparation, the grind and execution of making a deep run and what is required of that,” Collins said. “Their roles were different than they are now, but they saw others that were ahead of them and how they approached that playoff run. Our seniors and juniors at the time set an incredible example of what being the underdog looks like and refusing to quit.”
The Lady Longhorns participate in District 11-6A, which is also known as the District of Doom. It includes defending state champion DeSoto, ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 2 in the nation and Duncanville. Typically, when a team from this district gets eliminated in the postseason, it is by another from the league.
“I think this is one of the reasons you play sports. We have to get up for every game in our district, not just because you might be going against national talent, but also because there are teams that are extremely well-coached and could sneak up on you if you’re not prepared,” she said. “It reminds of how the Big XII was when I played at Baylor. That brings such excitement to the game. And if you can win in our district, you can win in the playoffs and you can make a run.”
A ‘Special Group of Young Ladies’
It also helps that this season’s team is the healthiest of any she’s coached to this point.
“I believe that’s because we changed a few things in our system, especially in regard to our strength and conditioning. And my staff has played a huge part in that reformation process,” Collins said. “It also helps that we have depth on our team and huge minutes are not required by our key players on every game day.
“This is a special group of young ladies. Every team I’ve coached has its own identity, and they are no different in that. But they have been with me since they were ‘babies.’ They really enjoy each other, they are talented and they constantly make me laugh. I have really enjoyed the process of coaching them and watching them grow as young women and athletes.”