[Graphic by Brent Seals/ Photos by Matt Smith & Jose Contreras]
It was either the end of an era or the beginning of one, but when all was said and done the second week of March in San Antonio’s Alamodome, coach Lombard had led Canyon to another state championship.
But it was Tate Lombard, not his legendary father Joe, who was on the sideline as Canyon’s head coach when the Lady Eagles beat Hardin-Jefferson 56-55 for the Class 4A state championship. It was the perfect capper to a near-perfect season which illustrated how seamless the transition between the two Lombards was.
“It was very enjoyable,” Tate Lombard said. “Just the team we had returning from a year ago when I was an assistant kept a lot of our players. We didn’t have to change just a whole lot. We implemented a few different things offensively, but the leadership we thought was there, it was just getting it to work in conjuncture with the team.”
Bringing those strands together into a unit which won the school’s 20th state championship is enough to get Lombard the 2021 Press Pass Sports Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
The auspicious start to his Canyon career validated Lombard’s selection as the school’s head coach less than a year earlier. After spending a year as an assistant to Joe, Tate was quickly named the next head coach after Joe Lombard retired following one of the most storied high school coaching careers in history, which included 19 state titles, including 13 at Canyon.
Whatever coaching lessons Tate may have learned from Joe (which were also reflected in two state titles Tate won as head coach at Wall) were on full display most of the season.
“I guess my philosophies and my dad’s philosophies are very similar because that’s what I was raised on,” Tate Lombard said. “I think it was up to me to be my own person. I’m going to be genuine to who I am and there’s things that I do differently.”
Last season Tate Lombard took on more the role of an apprentice in assisting his father, giving him a chance to learn the personnel he’d have when he took over this season. For a team which only graduated only one senior, there was little new to learn.
“Tate did a phenomenal job coming in as an assistant our first year and we kind of grew that bond with him,”said senior Chloe Callahan, the team’s leading scorer who will play at University of North Texas next year. “He was kind of there with coach (Joe) Lombard always coaching, so if we had questions we had to ask an assistant and Tate was very easy to talk to all the time. We knew that he knew what he was talking about, and just the fact that we could depend on him to answer our questions was really good.”
With Callahan and fellow senior Kenadee Winfrey, who signed with University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Canyon had 10 seniors going into the season, giving Canyon an edge in experience. The Lady Eagles won their first two games handily, but stumbled against Lubbock Cooper, who reached the Class 5A state semifinals, 67-52.
They didn’t lose again, winning their next 29 games to finish 31-1.
“We knew coming in we had a good chance to be in the mix just with the talent we had coming back,” Lombard said. “Early on I didn’t feel like we were playing just great, then we lost to Lubbock Cooper pretty bad. I thought that really changed our dynamic because we realized we weren’t as good as we thought we were and we had to do things differently to win against teams of that caliber. That was something we could look back upon throughout the season.”
In the regular season only Class 2A state semifinalist Panhandle, Class 6A Tascosa and defending 2A state champion Gruver stayed within double digits of the Lady Eagles, who romped through District 4-4A without playing a game closer than 32 points. Just as impressively, Canyon took down two previously unbeaten teams in the postseason, Levelland in the region quarterfinals and Hardin-Jefferson in the state title game.
And as the playoffs wore on, the Lady Eagles proved they could win the close games too. They beat Bridgeport 42-37 in the Region I-4A final and Dallas Pinkston 42-40 in the state semifinal, setting the state for a comeback win over Hardin-Jefferson, giving Tate Lombard his first title at Canyon.