East Texas will be represented after all at this year's high school girls basketball state tournament, all thanks to the Woden Lady Eagles. Woden is just one of four teams in the state still in contention for the ultimate title.
It's been a historic year for the program as they never skipped a beat under the new direction of a first-year head coach.
As the school and Woden community gathered for a proper send-off for the team Wednesday morning, the Lady Eagles let them know their work has just begun.
“We're fixing to go to San Antonio and we're going to let everybody down there know who Woden is,” said first-year head coach Lance Taylor.
If the state of Texas didn't know who Woden is, they certainly do now.
A lot of banners hang in the Woden gym, but one has been missing. For the first time in program history, the Lady Eagles are headed to state.
“It feels awesome. We're so excited to get our banner and we just hope we can take it all the way,” said senior Samantha Lowery.
“It's a once-in-a-lifetime feeling that I’m very thankful to be a part of because not a lot of people get to say they're going to state,” said sophomore Reese Taylor.
It all started when Travis and his assistant Tray Turner, had the tall task of taking over a successful program Paul Driver built for 35 years. In their first year, the duo has taken their new role in historic stride.
“We're just trying to keep his tradition of that winning mentality going. He laid the ground work for us,” said Travis.
“Our new coaches came in with a plan for us to succeed and without them, this journey would not be possible,” said Taylor.
“They've pushed us so much. They coach us so well and they're always there for us, teaching us more and more every day,” said junior Britney Thompson.
It's been a hard road traveled for No. 9 Woden in their journey to state. The Lady Eagles had to beat three ranked teams, including the No. 2 ranked team in the state LaPoynor, and No. 8 Tenaha.
“These girls have heart. They don't quit. They just get after it. They expect to win and they don't give up,” said Travis.
“Knowing that we've shocked everyone around us and that we've worked so hard to impress everyone around us, it's amazing,” said Taylor.
Set to play on the biggest stage yet where every team has talent, they're leaning on what they've played for all season long. They're not playing for their teammates, they're playing for family.
“We talk a lot during the games and we talk outside of the games. We just communicate. We love each other. We're just like a family,” said Thompson.
“The chemistry of how well we work together and how well we know each other, we're basically a family that does everything together,” said Taylor.
“We're just like a family. We just push each other and motivate each other to get to where we want to be,” said Lowery.
In a bus loaded with big dreams and competitive spirit, the final destination for this family is well known but fairly seen. Next stop for Woden is the state tournament.
“We're happy to make it but we're wanting to bring back those rings now,” said Travis.
“We're all ready. We’re ready to show everybody what we're made of,” said Thompson.
Woden will play Panhandle in the state semifinal game Friday at 10 a.m. If the Lady Eagles win, they’ll play the winner of Martin’s Mill and Weimar on Saturday for the state final at 1:30 p.m.
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