Callahan, Winfrey make most of last chance with Lady Eagles
Canyon plays in the UIL Class 4A state championship against Hardin-Jefferson at 2 p.m. Thursday in San Antonio’s Alamodome. [Graphic by Brent Seals. Photo by Matt Smith/ Press Pass Sports]
In terms of history, it might seem as if the Canyon Lady Eagles were overdue to return to the state championship game at 2 p.m. Thursday when they play Hardin-Jefferson for the Class A title at San Antonio’s Alamodome.
After all, it’s been four years since Canyon (30-1) last played in the state title game, when the Lady Eagles concluded a string of four straight state championships by beating Mansfield Timberview in the Class 5A state title game at the Alamodome. A few things have changed since that last trip to San Antonio.
Most obvious on the surface is the drop in classification a year after that last championship. Then there was the retirement in 2020 of legendary coach Joe Lombard, who won 13 state championships in his 35 seasons at Canyon.
But the most inevitable change was in the Lady Eagles themselves, as graduation changes the cast of characters from year to year. The last two years in particular seniors Chloe Callahan and Kenadee Winfrey have had starring roles, and now they’re ready for their biggest and brightest stage yet against 30-0 Hardin-Jefferson.
“It’s something that I’ve dreamed about since I was a little kid,” said Callahan, who leads Canyon with 13.0 points a game. “Since we were yay big we would always want to be the king Lady Eagles that would go to the state championship and it’s a dream come true.
“It’s very motivating. It’s not something everyone gets and the fact that I get the opportunity to play for such a great team under such great coaches is huge to be playing for the Canyon Lady Eagles, much less going to state.”
Callahan and Winfrey are one win away from placing their names among the great Canyon players of yore. It might have seemed like more state championships were to be expected with the Lady Eagles dropping a classification, but they lost to Argyle in the Region I-4A semifinals each of the last two seasons, including a one-point loss last season after losing only one game prior to that.
Winfrey sees it as a case of one last chance to take care of unfinished business.
“A lot of teams don’t make it this far like we have the past four years,” said Winfrey, second on the team to Callahan with 10.9 points a game and who leads Canyon in rebounding. “We’ve been lucky to make it to the regional tournament and losing those past three years has been a heartbreaker, so getting back in that situation where we get to go to the state tournament is a big deal for us knowing that we have a chance to finish off on a win.”
The two seniors already had their college futures assured before the season, as Callahan signed with the University of North Texas and Winfrey committed to the University of Nevada Las Vegas. It was obvious they were going to be the linchpins for the Lady Eagles this season.
They were still going to be playing for coach Lombard, only this time it would be Joe’s son Tate. In 2019, Tate came to Canyon as an assistant after winning two state championships at Wall, and shortly after Joe announced his retirement, Tate was named the new Canyon coach.
Thanks in large part to Callahan and Winfrey, success has stayed in the Lombard family at Canyon.
“They’ve been very consistent this year game to game just the way they can impact the games at both ends of the floor,” Tate Lombard said of Callahan and Winfrey. “It seems like if one’s not playing up to their standard the other one is. They’ve done a great job of just kind of helping each other carry the load with their other teammates throughout the season.”
The bar is already set high at Canyon, and this was a reasonable year to expect the Lady Eagles to break through with another championship run. Callahan and Winfrey led a group of 10 returning seniors.
Perhaps that’s been the difference in the last two playoff games in particular, as Canyon beat Bridgeport 42-37 in the region final and Dallas Pinkston 42-40 in the state semifinal on Saturday. Callahan and junior Taylor Thomas were Canyon’s only double-digit scorers in both wins, and junior Zoey McBroom hit some huge fourth quarter free throws.
“I think that everyone plays a part in the team,” Callahan said. “Me and Kenadee do try to step up and lead as much as we can. We’re here as a team and everyone else has a voice just like we do.”
Winfrey had a voice as a freshman, as she was Canyon’s top player off the bench for a team which lost to eventual two-time state champion Amarillo High in the Region I-5A final in 2018. But she didn’t show up the next season, as she tore her ACL over the summer and missed her entire sophomore year.
It isn’t something Winfrey would want to go through again, but it taught her toughness.
“Just going through that is all mental,” Winfrey said. “It’s a little bit physical but it’s all mental. Getting back on the court was one of my biggest goals and I knew I wanted to be back out here playing for my team and these coaches.”
Winfrey’s return as a junior coincided with Tate Lombard’s arrival as an assistant coach. He served as something of an apprentice, albeit one who was totally ready when it came time to take over and make decisions.
“We returned the bulk of our team from last season and a lot of those girls have been on varsity for multiple years,” Lombard said. “I think it helped me being here last year for me to get used to the girls and for them to kind of build relationships with us. It wasn’t anything that we did differently, it was kind of the mindset that this was our chance to make a run and do the best we can.”
Now that promise is one win away from being completely fulfilled. If the Lady Eagles had Hardin-Jefferson defeat No. 1, they’ll hang their 20th state championship banner.
While both Lombard’s have been to the Alamodome before and won state championships, this is a rare Canyon team who doesn’t have a single player who’s been there before. Callahan is extremely eager to embrace the chance.
“I’ll definitely be nervous but I’ll be more ready than I’ve ever been,” she said. “It’s been awesome. Coach Lombard has definitely been a coach that has been very motivating. He’s been fantastic all year. It’s an honor playing for him and his dad.”
Winfrey has grown up in the Canyon athletic community as much as any of the Lady Eagles. Her father Todd is a longtime assistant coach in football and her older sister Brylee (now playing at undefeated Lubbock Christian University) was her Canyon teammate as a freshman.
Younger sister Abree is also on this year’s team, and for her and Kenadee, this journey started well before they set foot in Joe Lombard Gymnasium.
“When we were little it was our dream,” Kenadee Winfrey said. “We want to be on that state championship team. We want to play for the Canyon Lady Eagles. We want to play for coach Joe Lombard.
“Growing up as a Canyon Lady Eagle has been a dream come true. It’s been an honor to play for this team and be around this community.”