STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
As the Marble Falls High School girls basketball team exited the Liberty Hill High School gym Feb. 11, a crowd of fans greeted them with thunderous applause and hugs.
The Lady Mustangs (14-19 overall, 6-6 District 17-5) fell to Georgetown (23-9, 12-0 District 18-5A) 52-37 in a bi-district championship, but the appreciation wasn’t just for a valiant effort.
It was because Marble Falls overcame adversity throughout the season to make the playoffs.
“This was one of the most up-and-down seasons,” head coach John Berkman said.
He recalled postponing the first day of after-school practice Oct. 17 because of flooding that forced district officials to cancel classes and all school activities.
Starting junior point guard Rylie Ulbricht suffered an ankle injury that sidelined her for a month during the season. And she had a rib issue that might have played a role in limiting her movements on the court against Georgetown.
Senior post Emma Holcomb had a back issue earlier in the season that put her out of commission until December. Then, there’s the usual nicks, irks, and bruises that come during a season when some Lady Mustangs were simply limited.
On top of that, the players found themselves in an athletic district that included three Leander Independent School District squads and three Pflugerville ISD teams. Most girls basketball pundits and fans outside of Marble Falls probably overlooked the Lady Stangs and picked them for one of the bottom spots in district.
And yet, the team refused to lets those things define its season. Instead, Marble Falls seized control and wrote its own story for 2018-19.
The Lady Mustangs beat the district opponents they needed to, including wins over Leander Glenn and Pflugerville Weiss. They split the season series with Pflugerville Connally and Leander Rouse and didn’t allow a 56-13 loss to Cedar Park High, a top 10 team in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches poll, mentally wreck them.
“Our girls are battlers, warriors,” Berkman said. “This is not as athletic of a team as I coached the last two years. This team has a lot of fight. I’m more than willing to go to war with them.”
That fight came from their coach, who understands all too well not being the most naturally gifted athlete or the tallest or the fastest. But Berkman, when he played for Marble Falls almost two decades ago, never allowed anyone to outwork him.
“I’d like to think that’s a reflection of me,” he said. “If you want to be successful, it means you’re doing your best. I hope that’s been the way we play.”
That’s why, though Georgetown led from the first basket to the final buzzer, the game was scoreless for the first two minutes. In the next 60 seconds, however, the Lady Eagles took a 7-0 lead and forced Berkman to call a timeout.
He reminded his players of what got them to the playoffs and told them to stick to the game plan. Defensively, they made it difficult for Georgetown, but the Lady Eagles rebounded well and got several second-chance points.
Marble Falls trailed 17-11 after the first quarter when junior guard Kendall Ulbricht hit a 3-pointer to end the opening period. The Lady Eagles led 28-18 at the half and 41-28 after three periods.
Georgetown’s half-court trapping defense didn’t allow Marble Falls shooters to get comfortable. But there was never a time when fans didn’t feel like the Lady Mustangs wouldn’t make a run.
That is a reflection of the program, Berkman said.
“This is the third year in a row we made the playoffs,” he said. “They’re part of a team that brought a program back around. It’s a program that has a ton of history.”
Georgetown forced about 20 turnovers.
“It was a rough night scoring-wise,” Berkman said. “We didn’t seem to hit the shots we normally hit a lot of the time.”
Senior power forward Trinity Boyd led the Lady Mustangs with 13 points followed by junior guard Kendall Ulbricht with nine points coming from 3-pointers.