It's that time of year again, as the gymnasium at Commerce High School will once again fill with the sound of squeaking sneakers and buzzer-beaters hoops season is upon us.
Lots of questions surrounded both the boys team and girls team this season. Will the Tigers be able to continue their success and capture at least a share of the district title for the fourth consecutive year without star players Dodge Brown and Casey Shields, and would the Lady Tigers show improvement after scoring just seven wins in the last two seasons.
If the early season is any indication, this season looks to be a turnaround for the girls basketball team, as they are off to a 4-3 start and are riding a three-game winning streak after victories over Tom Bean, North Lamar and Honey Grove.
The Lady Tigers are under the leadership of new coach Tony Henry, a 2008 CHS graduate who is returning home to coach a girls team for the first time.
"I'm happy to be home," Tony said in a recent interview with the Commerce Journal. "Coming back to Commerce is a dream come true."
Henry previous was an assistant coach for the Tiger boys basketball team from 2013-15, and had since coached in Cooper and Sulphur Springs.
Henry said that he has been looking to his seniors to lead the charge, especially after many of them joined the team late due to the volleyball team being in the postseason. In three games since seniors Mya Wilson, Camdyn Shaw, Allie Wittkopf and Breann Mulcahy joined up with the team, the Lady Tigers have bumped up their scoring average from 24 to 35.3 points per game, while the defense is allowing 31 points per game, down from 41.25 in the first four matches.
Henry applauded the work of the seniors.
"They are very easy to coach. They have been under multiple coaches already, so the change doesn't phase them as much," Henry said. "They are very eager to learn and get better."
The coach said that there is still plenty of work to be done, and he would like the team to up their tempo, especially as they get into district play later in the season. Commerce will have a tough test, as its district features defending State Champions Chapel Hill and 2017-18 champs Mt. Vernon.
On the boys' side, this season will be a big test for the Tigers.
Dodge Brown, an All-State selection for two years, and Casey Shields, an All-Region selection, departed the team following graduation in the spring, leaving big holes to fill. In addition, the team is without Christian Scott, one of the top scorers last year, as he moved out of the district. Jaydon Harris, a force under the rim, is out of commission following an offseason injury that Head Coach Roger Brown says will keep him off of the court until late January.
This leaves senior Sammy Brown as the only starter left from last year's team that made it to the Regional Finals.
Even with the big shoes to fill, coach Brown says he still likes what this team can bring to the table.
"I really like the team we have this season," Brown said. "We've definitely gotten larger size-wise, but there is obviously less experience out there on the floor. But I still like our chances."
Brown says that this team has already spent a fair amount of time together playing league games during the spring and summer, and it's all about continuing to mesh well together.
"I think it's exciting to see what this team can be without guys like Dodge and Casey," Brown said. "We just need to focus on discipline."
As has been custom the past few seasons, Brown has created a gauntlet of a non-district schedule for his team. The Tigers will routinely square off against 4A, 5A and 6A schools. The team will also participate in the annual Edgewood Tournament, HWY 5 Tournament, and the Paris Tournament right after Christmas.
Commerce has won at least a share of the District Championship the last three season, and won the title outright with an undefeated 12-0 record two years in a row.
The Tigers will begin their season Friday on the road in Canton. The opening tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.