FORT WORTH — Though new Jaguars Head Coach Timmi Blackshear had 93 wins under her belt, she claimed another — a first — during their 3-0 season-opener at Brewer High School on Tuesday at BHS Gymnasium.
Her first in Midlothian Heritage High School red, white and blue.
"It's important to take wins when you can even while you're still learning and working through some kinks," Blackshear said after team's five-set victory against the Lady Bears. "I'm really proud of how tough the girls stayed mentally last night and held their composure even in that tight second set."
She added the win, especially during plays in the second and third sets, had nearly everything she was looking for from a team primed to go to the playoffs.
The Jaguars won the first set 25-14, the second 28-26 and the third 25-16, but to their coach said there was something reminiscent of her last team's early days.
"There are a lot of similarities in my Cleburne and Jaguar families. First, they're just great kids that I enjoy being in the gym with each day," Blackshear continued. "Each team comes with a different set of challenges and my Jaguars are pushing me and challenging me as a coach and I'm grateful for that. I think as a professional you should always be looking for positions and opportunities that do that."
She should know the complicated formula of helping a "new" team reach the playoffs in one of the top three UIL classifications.
Though not new in the sense of third-year Midlothian Heritage, 5A Cleburne High School had won only seven games — two in District 8-5A — in 2014 before her arrival and under one-year coach Holly Fish. The Yellowjackets won 16 of their 36 total games and eight of their 14 district games in 2015.
They cruised against Arlington Heights High School in the bi-district round but fell to Denton High School's Lady Broncos in a five-set thriller.
A year later, Blackshear's team rose above the .500-win watermark, going 25-19 overall and 13-2 in a newly-formed eight-team District 9-5A that contained the likes of Arlington Seguin, Burleson, Crowley and Granbury High Schools.
They entered the playoffs for the second straight year behind her clipboard-carrying guile, falling to Midlothian High School and then-Head Coach Mary Malone in the first round via a 3-0 finish.
Blackshear said the team she led off the court Tuesday may have been in a better position for success — given its experience — than the Yellowjackets that went two rounds deep in her first year at Cleburne.
"Cleburne was coming off of a tough season when I took that position," she noted. "In a way, that group just needed to be encouraged and given some tools that would help them be successful in what they were capable of doing. That's not focusing on what we couldn't do, but focusing on and getting really great at what we could do [in the first season]. I have a lot of talent and experience here but at the end of the day, you have to find how to piece it all together to put them in the best possible situation to be successful. I think we haven't even begun to reach our potential, but the possibilities for this group are really exciting and we will get there."
Back were Katie Chambers, Grayce Davis, Victoria Needles, Julia Valdez and the Jags, a team that reached the playoffs consecutive years under former Head Coach Sarah Hallum.
Back was the 12-girl squad that had finished a mere five games out of first place and taken a set from district champion and Texas Girls Coaches Association 2017 preseason No. 3 Glen Rose — behind No. 1 Bushland and No. 2 Argyle High Schools — on Oct. 18.
Blackshear pointed to their next matches at the Duncanville Tournament of Champions, noting the three days of testing Midlothian Heritage will get beginning on Friday. She mentioned the matchup with 5A Lancaster High School on Aug. 15 and the Argyle and Brewer Tournaments beyond.
She said though she and her team are only one game into the season and there's a long road ahead to contending for an 8-4A title, there was plenty to smile about after the win.
And that firsts are always special.
"Anytime you begin a season in a new program it's nice to start off with a win. It sets the tone not just for me but the girls as well," she continued. "We have to earn points and learn to take every opportunity given to us because we won't be able to keep making that many [mistakes] and still walk away with a win. That being said, there were plenty of great moments last night that we can all smile about — we just need to make those more consistent and string a few more together each set. I'm really proud of what they accomplished last night, really sets the tone for all the things we're capable of."
Marcus S. Marion is the sports editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror. He can be reached by phone at (469) 517-1456 or across social media platforms @MarcusSMarion.