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Happy return: Middleton back on floor as girls hoops tips off

Tulane-bound senior heals from injury, adds to seasoned MHS squad

Bill Spinks
Midlothian Mirror

Without Division I-bound star player Kierra Middleton, the remaining Midlothian Lady Panthers jelled, rallied and came within a triple-overtime loss of reaching the state tournament last spring.

Most of those same players are back for head coach Amy Tennison — and so is Middleton, who is fully recovered from an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Middleton was an All-Ellis County Player of the Year finalist in 2019 as a sophomore, and was averaging 26.3 points a game at the beginning of her junior year when she was lost for the season.

MHS opens at No. 5 in the Texas Girls Coaches Association Class 5A girls’ basketball poll and looks on paper armed to the teeth as they pursue a trip to state that fell just out of their grasp last March in a region final loss to eventual 5A state champion Frisco Liberty.

The Lady Panthers, who dropped their regular-season opener on Friday at Mansfield Legacy, 55-34, have plenty of time to work Middleton back into the flow before District 14-5A play for them begins Dec. 18 at Joshua.

Middleton marked her official return with a team-high 12 points in limited time as the Lady Panthers trailed 14-9 at the end of the first quarter and 24-16 at the half. Legacy pulled away in the second half for the win.

MHS was scheduled to host Burleson Centennial on Tuesday. They will welcome Highland Park to town on Friday at 6:30 p.m. and will travel to Wylie East on Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. tip before returning to MHS Arena to face Mansfield at 6:30 p.m.

Middleton, who is verbally committed to Tulane University and was expected to sign with the Green Wave on Wednesday, gives MHS an immediate boost on offense. Senior Maykayla Jackson returns after becoming a de facto team leader in Middleton’s absence and is the reigning Offensive MVP of the district.

Other top returnees include Kadia Ward, Elise Jones and Aaniyah Hayes for the Lady Panthers. Ward was voted the district Newcomer of the Year as a freshman. Halle Manwarren and Bailey Probst are a couple of newcomers who should step in to fill roles left behind by the graduations of Jerica Henderson and Hallie Mayfield.

Entering the 2020 calendar year with a .500 record, MHS won 13 of its next 14 games to finish as District 14-5A runner-up and advanced all the way to the Class 5A Region II championship game, where the Lady Panthers were finally vanquished Liberty, 48-43 — but not after a four-quarter battle and three overtime periods. The Lady Panthers finished at 25-14.

HHS opens with win

The Heritage High School girls got the 2020-2021 season off to a winning start on Friday night with a 43-35 victory at Everman.

It was a tight game throughout, with HHS nursing a slight lead until the final minutes, when the Jaguars put the game away at the charity stripe.

The Jags were scheduled to travel to Fort Worth to face Dunbar on Tuesday night. They will travel to Class 1A power Lipan on Friday and will play their first official home game of the season against Decatur on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. before heading south to play Robinson next Tuesday.

Second-year head coach Angie Evans brings back a collection of talents from last year’s 26-12 district championship squad, including Jerzie Bryant, the District 17-4A Offensive MVP as a freshman last winter, and Elise Stafford, who was voted the district Newcomer of the Year as a sophomore.

Senior first-teamers Elizabeth Schmidt and Kylar Kenter, both multisport athletes, return to the fold as well as classmates Megan Hill and Rachel Allen.

Juniors Asia Purnell and Emma Mattice; sophomores Kora Huff, Bailey Lamb and Allie Schmidt; and freshmen Grace Sweeney, Maddie Berumen and Ivy Preusser round out the varsity.

District 11-4A play begins Dec. 15 at Alvarado.