If you were to just look at some of the number of today’s bi-district matchup between the Elysian Fields Lady Jackets and the Gladewater Lady Bears, it would be easy to just assume tonight will be the last game of the year for the Lady Jackets. Sure, Elysian fields is the fourth seed after going 8-6 in district play as it goes up against the No. 1 seed in a Gladewater team that went undefeated in its district but there’s more to the story, like the fact that the Lady Jackets have been shorthanded through almost the entire length of district play.
“Execution has been the key for us so far,” Lady Jackets head coach Crystal Mills said. “That’s what’s gotten us to this point, I believe. The girls have really been executing well. I lost one of my starters the second game in district so I’ve been playing with just six girls. I call them my ‘sensational six.’”
Seniors Christen Smith and Madison Edwards are two of those “sensational six.”
“Christen Smith is my leading scorer and leading rebounder,” Mills said. “She’s averaging almost a double-double at the moment, 14 points and eight rebounds. Madison Edwards is my point guard. She’s a coach on the floor. Those are the two I look to on the court to help with the other young girls. I’m starting a freshman and a sophomore and the other one is a senior. Those are the two who lead my sensational six. Madison is averaging eight points and five rebounds.”
“We have six people, so that means one sub,” Smith said. “So for everyone to come to practice and show up, I think that shows everyone wants to play and wants to win.”
“I just think it’s teamwork, our team communication and our team bonding,” Edwards said when asked what the key to her team’s success up to this point has been. “Together we’re always helping each other and lifting each other up. We’ never talk down on anybody. We’re always there for one another when someone needs someone. We’re always encouraging each other.”
Smith and Edwards have played basketball together since the eighth grade.
“We’ve come very far from eighth grade,” Edwards said. “In eighth grade, we used to just dribble the ball, turn and shoot it without even looking at the goal.”
Through the last five years of playing basketball, the two seniors say they have learned valuable life lessons.
“A repeated mistake is a decision,” Smith said, quoting her coach.
“Execute,” Edwards added. “That’s another one – execute.”
“Another one is, ‘Overcome and adapt,’ because we have to overcome playing with six people,” Smith said. “Then we adapt to it and now we’re all we have.”
If the Lady Jackets are able to pull off an upset win today, it won’t be the first time they proved doubters wrong. For example there was the time when they Edwards was injured in the first quarter, leaving her team to play with just five players.
“I scored my number,” Smith offered. “I scored 23 points in one game.”
“Just getting hurt and still watching my team pull off a win, it was very inspiring and motivational,” Edwards said.
“At the beginning of the season, we started off with a losing record,” Smith said. “So there was a lot of, ‘This year y’all aren’t going to the playoffs.’ I think that helped us to win but also we have our family, our friends, our fans and our coaches. Mainly our coaches keep us going because it’s hard to keep going with six people. With them having the positivity, that kept us going. Even though we were considered the underdogs, we’ve got a great support system from our fans and coaches to even ourselves.”
“Especially our coaches,” Edwards said. “They play a big role every day.”
“It’s very satisfying,” Mills said about her team overcoming obstacles and making the postseason in her first year as head coach of the Lady Jackets. “This is my first taste of playoffs, doing it with six girls, that’s amazing. Who would have ever thought we’d be in this position, going with six girls after the second game in district? I’m very excited, very pleased that these girls bought into what I was doing. They do everything I ask. The come in for practice, never complain.”
Smith and Edwards say overcoming the obstacles they’ve been faced with this season can serve as an example to the younger players at Elysian Fields.
“We have a pretty good group of eighth graders coming up,” Smith said. “They actually have come to a lot of our games and seen how we only have six people and still pull off the win. I feel like as a senior and leaving that legacy is pretty big. You can pretty much accomplish anything you put your mind to.”
When asked what the key is to pulling out a win against the Lady Bears tonight, Mills said, “We have to take care of the ball. They’re going to be fast. They’re scrappy. We’re going to try to break their press and stay mentally engaged. We can’t turn the ball over.”
Tonight’s game against Gladewater is slated for a 7 p.m. tipoff at Longview’s Lobo Coliseum.