Tight-knit bond: Gruver hopes to put stamp on special season in San Antonio

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The No. 1-ranked Gruver Lady Hounds open the UIL Girls Class 2A state tournament against San Saba in a semifinal on Friday morning at San Antonio’s Alamodome. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]

The Gruver Lady Hounds will grace the presence of San Antonio’s Alamodome for the second time in three years, and the third time since 2015 when they open the UIL Class 2A state tournament Friday morning.

Gruver is no stranger to playing on a big stage. This Lady Hounds team has taken on all challengers during an amazing 31-0 run this year, and returns a hand full of players from the 2020 state championship team, the only state title in program history.

What is different is at the top. Though head coach Trent Lankford is familiar to Gruver— coaching the Lady Hounds seven seasons through his first stint, and leading Gruver to a state-runner up in 2015 before heading to Amarillo High to be an assistant for mentor Jeff Williams— this group of Lady Hounds had to adapt to Lankford’s style after the departure of former coach Shannon Fisher to Childress.

“It’s been a great transition,” Lankford said. “On the first day of practice back in October we talked about playing with joy, we’re going to play with enthusiasm, and we’re going to play for each other. This team has embraced that. I couldn’t be more proud from what I’ve seen.”

Senior leader Bailey Maupin shared the same sentiment as Lankford.

“Coach Lankford and Coach Fisher have very different coaching styles,” Maupin said. “But what coach Lankford has been able to show us and teach us has been great. It’s helped us in every aspect of the game.”

What makes this team unique is the closeness on and off the court. The leadership of Texas Tech signee, Maupin, seniors Camryn Armes, Callie Conyers, Kami Whitehead, and junior Brenna Butler is unmatched. These girls have all played together since elementary school, and it shows in a very distinctive way.

“We’ve gotten so close over the years,” said Armes, who is averaging 12.5 points a game after missing missing of last season with an injury. “Most of us have been on varsity for so long now it’s just grown our connection. We know each other’s strengths, we know our weaknesses, and we always know where we’re going to be on the court.”

After missing out on defending their state title last year, falling in the third round to Panhandle, Gruver has been driven to return the state tournament and claim what they feel is theirs. The Lady Hounds aren’t going to San Antonio for the River Walk experience, this team is on a mission to return the state trophy back to Gruver.

“This is a business trip,” said Maupin, who has scored an impressive 2,669 points throughout her illustrious four-year career. “We’ve been there before, and we know what the environment is like. We’re ready to go back down to San Antonio, play together one more time, and take care of business.”

Lankford echoed Maupin’s comments.

“I sent a text out saying this is a business trip,” Lankford said. “We’re going down with one purpose only. Since that text the girls have taken that mindset and loved the context of it. Yes, it’s a fun time, and great to still be playing, but make no mistake about it. We’re going there to win.”

Gruver opens the state tournament facing San Saba (31-7) in a semifinal at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

If the Lady Hounds win, they’ll play either Stamford (35-2) or Martin’s Mill (36-3) for the state championship at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

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