The halls at Cedar Park High School are lined with district and state titles from nearly every sport on campus. This season, the girls’ basketball team added a trophy with its name on it to the case.
For the first time in school history, the Lady Timberwolves won an outright district title. And they did it in dominant fashion, winning all but one of their district games by double-digit points despite being picked by TABC to finish third in the district.
"As the season rolled along, there was a lot of excitement initially with things that we were doing that were different,” first-year head coach Donny Ott said. “Initially, not many people expected anything."
In the TABC poll released Monday, Cedar Park was ranked No. 11 in the state, its highest ranking of the season.
The Lady Timberwolves continued to improve as the preseason went on and had a solid first half of the district season. They then beat Rouse in a rank-on-ranked matchup at home on Dec. 12.
They followed that up with a home win in the first game of 2018 against Georgetown, a team that made it to the regional final a season ago.
Ott said that was the moment the switch flipped in the team's mind from thinking they were just good to thinking they had a chance to be special.
“That was the point when other people started to see it,” Ott said. “We as a coaching staff felt like we were the better team, but there were people on the outside that didn’t think that was realistic.”
Ott is in his first season with Cedar Park and took over for Mark Meyers, who resigned at the beginning of last season because of stress. With an interim coach, the Lady Timberwolves made it to the first round of the playoffs, losing to Magnolia.
Senior Jordan Ott and sophomore Nicole Leff are the two players on the team that could score 20 points in any given game. But they’re also focused on getting their teammates involved if they’re off their game or someone else is in a groove.
“Everyone has pretty much accepted their roles,” senior Kilee West said. “The people that score, score. The people that play defense really well do that. And our bench is hype. We have the best benching the district and they keep us motivated. It’s all fun and everyone has a good time.”
The beginning of the season was a learning process for the whole team. Cedar Park lost at Vandegrift in early November and dropped a pair of games to Belton and Rockwall-Heath at the MT Rice Tournament in Waco.
Ott said all three of those games were winnable, but the team was still learning to trust each other. The Lady Timberwolves mostly played zone defense and had another learning curve when they shifted to a man-to-man scheme before the year.
“We just hadn’t evolved into learning all those things,” Ott said. “Everything was still a learning process. Just slowly over time, they’ve just bought in and they really believe in their identity. We told them at the beginning of the year that they have to trust each other. They’ve done a good job of that.”
The gym was packed last Friday night when Cedar Park clinched the district title with a defensive 36-23 win at Georgetown. The Lady Timberwolves held Georgetown without a field goal the entire second half and were led by Pujita Shukla with 12 points.
When Cedar Park practices, the second team that goes up against the starters routinely calls themselves the second best team in the district.
“From day one, practices were different than what they used to be,” Leff said. “There’s a different mentality. We had this mentality that we wanted to change what Cedar Park girls’ basketball is and we did and now we’re here.”
The Timberwolves will take on Willis in the first round of the playoffs on Monday night.
“It’s an environment filled with continued love,” Ott said. “Whenever this ride ends, it’s going to be emotionally tough because of the bond that this team has. I’ve been a part of great teams that have had a lot of success, but I’ve never had this much fun. ”