By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
Any pregame routine the Waxahachie Lady Indians had on the basketball court or in the hours leading up to tipoff was thrown out Friday.
After all, it’s a little difficult to focus on a gameplan while playing host to eight standout hoopers from Australia.
Under first-year head coach Ashlaa Zuniga, the Lady Indians welcomed the Aussie Travelers girls’ basketball team to the campus of Waxahachie High School on Friday. The group is comprised of high-level student-athletes hailing from different regions of Australia — so, when looking for a US comparison, think AAU in terms of talent.
Zuniga, who was hired by the district in March to fill the void left by longtime coach Lesli Priebe, had previously hosted the Aussie Travelers while on staff at Cypress Park High School in the Houston-area.
The day began with the Aussie visitors shadowing Lady Indian players to class and lunch. It then featured the two teams doing what they do best — hoop.
Once on the court, the Aussie Travelers ultimately outscored the Lady Indians 12-2 in the fourth quarter for the 47-29 victory inside Mike Turner Gymnasium.
Waxahachie trailed by just two points at the half, 21-19, only to be outscored 25-10 in the second half.
Waxahachie guard Mya Williams scored six of her team-best 13 points in the third quarter. The junior also added a game-high eight rebounds, one assist and was shadowed during the schoolday by Issy Morgan, who scored 13 points for the Travlers.
“It was very fun and it was very interesting,” Williams told KBEC Sports of the experience. “I learned a lot from my new Aussie friend about their culture. It was fun to spend so much time with them and then battle on the court.”
Williams added that Morgan was “most surprised by our courtyard and said it was just like the movies.”
Rayna Ross finished the game with 12 points for the Lady Indians, just a few hours after becoming friends with Taryn Mahoney (3 points, 3 rebounds).
“It was a cool experience to have them go to class with us and learn more about their culture,” said Ross, who noted Mahoney had already celebrated her 18th birthday and recently graduated from high school. “It was definitely something that I would love to do again. But being buddies in class and then having to be competitive on the court was a little hard to do.”
Ross also said that Mahoney was most taken aback by the sheer size of the high school campus and facilities.
The senior told the Waxahachie ISD media department that “it’s crazy how we were born in this town and given so much. Like, this was given to us. We didn’t pay for this school — it was taxes. it’s not something we just get. You would never think on the other side of the world that they don’t have the opportunities that we have.”
Taz Valencia and Chadarion Miles rounded out the Waxahachie scoring Friday night with two points, each. Hanna Giddey led the Aussie Travelers with a game-high 14 points and Matilda Flood finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
The Lady Indians fell to 6-8 on the season with the loss, while the Aussie team departed to continue their stateside tour with stops in Fort Worth, Austin and in the Carolinas.
Zuniga applauded the efforts of the Lady Indians against the much-taller Aussie squad, noting the team played well through three physical quarters.
“I think their height and physicality caused us to be tired and fatigued in the fourth quarter,” she added. “So, I feel like our girls kind of lost their fight. But we showed some maturity and growth to at least try and fight at the end of the fourth quarter.” Zuniga pointed to a pair of three-minute lulls — one in the second quarter and another in the fourth quarter — that ultimately decided the outcome.
But Friday wasn’t so much about the win-loss record as it was about personal growth, Zuniga explained.
“I hope our girls learned that a lot of things that we take for granted that we have here, everybody doesn’t have,” Zuniga told KBEC Sports following the game. “I also hope they learned that, while miles can separate you, at the end of the day we all are the same. We all have a lot of the same interests and basketball is one of those things. I just hope that my girls understand that this is a lifetime experience and memory.”
The head coach also thanked Waxahachie High principal Tonya Harris and the Waxahachie ISD administration team for allowing the Aussie Travelers to visit the campus and interact with the students.
“Basketball is the same no matter where you are,” Zuniga said. “It doesn’t matter girls or boys, it’s all the same so we had that common bond. To see the girls relate to their fellow Australian in different ways was amazing.”
All photos by Fred Phipps/KBEC Sports
Fred Phipps/KBEC Sports contributed to this report.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith