Slowly but surely, the Taylor girls basketball team appears to be turning the corner under second-year head coach Trent Collier.
After winning just eight games last year, the young Lady Ducks impressed in their first batch of preseason scrimmages on Oct. 27. Despite missing two starters, they posted a double-digit win over Smithville and fell to Class 5A opponents Weiss and Elgin by a combined five points.
"It was a pretty decent day overall, especially when you compare it to the way we [scrimmaged] last year," Collier said. "Last year, we were trying to figure out what do to with that big orange thing hanging on the backboard. This year, we're scoring and playing pretty decent defense."
While the graduation of Kenedy Smith leaves a sizeable void in the post, Collier believes his team can offset that loss by pushing the pace more – something he's already been experimenting with in the preseason.
"The girls have commented in practice, 'Coach, this is faster,' and my answer has been, 'Yes, it's intentional,' " Collier said with a laugh. "We want to play faster basketball, and the good news is we're starting to look like we have some personnel to do it with."
Taylor loses Smith and senior guard Elysia Robles, who is stepping away from basketball to focus on soccer, but brings back eight players with varsity experience.
Among them is Collier's daughter, Ashlyn, who returns to run the offense after a breakout sophomore season.
Ashlyn led the Lady Ducks in points (12.4), steals (2.5), assists (1.9) and blocks (0.8) per game last year, earning first team all-district honors. She also averaged 6.5 turnovers, but has been working tirelessly to improve in that area, according to Collier.
"I feel like she can get to the hole a lot better than she could last year," he said. "That's a whole new dimension to her game. Her ball handling has improved, and her decision-making has improved. Her shot is still inconsistent, but she goes on stretches where she's pretty impressive."
Sophomore Darian Roemer will back up Ashlyn at point guard, while senior move-in Violet Fields, junior Bre Carrizales and sophomore Aubrie Sanchez fight for minutes at shooting guard.
"I've got three pretty good sets of hands battling it out for that two spot," Collier said, "and on the other side at the three, we've got Natalie Alderete, a freshman, who is highly skilled."
Another promising newcomer is sophomore Atlantis Mireles, who has emerged as a defensive specialist behind Alderete at small forward.
"We think we found a surprise over the summer in Atlantis," Collier said. "Her skill-set, offensively, is not where we need it to be, but with her defensive anticipation, athleticism and rebounding, she definitely belongs [on varsity]."
While undersized, the Lady Ducks also go two-deep in the frontcourt with junior Kelbi Harris and sophomore Lakashya Davis at power forward, and senior Emma Chapman and sophomore Yasmine Thomas at post.
"At the five we've got Emma, who is 5'10" on a good day, but she's long, she's athletic and she competes," Collier said. "We've moved Kelbi to the four, which is a little out of her comfort zone, but she's taken to it. She's physical, she's a gamer and she shows up on game days."
It may not be enough to challenge Liberty Hill and Burnet for a district title, but Collier is cautiously optimistic about Taylor's chances to get back in the playoffs after a one-year absence.
"We're under no illusions that we're going to challenge for a district championship this year, unless miracles happen," Collier joked. "Right now, we've got two teams – Eastside Memorial and Salado – that we're setting up as targets and we're preparing to knock those targets down."