Sonora's Return to Playoffs Anchored by Immediate Turnaround in New Coaching Regime
SONORA, TX — The Sonora Lady Broncos (24-7, 7-4) clinched a playoff berth for the first time in four years with a 28-point win over TLCA on Tuesday.
That team finished second in the district standings one year after winning the district championship and making an appearance in the area round. It was the start of a two-year slide for Sonora.
Tuesday’s win marked the first step back to that winning tradition.
“It’s been a long journey. I know these girls have come a long way,” head coach Clayton Harris said. “It’s really just a true testament to the seniors and their leadership.”
Harris and his wife, Judi, the head volleyball coach at Sonora, accepted the Lady Broncos’ vacant coaching spots in the spring of 2018 and moved from Hondo. The athletes bought in immediately and accepted new faces like Harris’ daughters Brae and Raeven and Rocksprings transfer Skylar Harris.
That acceptance from the seniors played one of the biggest roles in Sonora’s turnaround this season.
“The biggest thing is the acceptance of the old girls blending in with the new girls,” Harris added. “Really, just buying into the whole new program. It’s hard to win 20 games regardless if you’re new, old, good, bad, ugly -- it doesn’t even matter. So, to win 20 games-plus moving forward, I’m pretty excited and proud of the kids.”
After the acceptance of the new faces came the hard work to rebuild after another dismal season. They had finished toward the bottom of the district standings in consecutive years. That led to the departure of some key players like Mary Kyle Johnson after her freshman year, the last time Sonora went to the playoffs.
However, the arrival of the Harris clan brought excitement, which intrigued Johnson to come back to the hardwood for the Lady Broncos.
“Compared to my freshman year, I feel like my role is different from when I was a freshman,” Johnson said. “I think the chemistry was better on the team as well. I think these girls really get along well and it shows on the court and helps with our game.”
Then, the team was able to mesh during summer league basketball. Things began to fall into place.
“We started winning this summer, which was completely new for them,” coach Harris said. “We didn’t lose a single game in the summer in the Eldorado Summer League. They were like ‘Holy cow! We don’t ever win. We’ve won more games this summer than we did all year last year throughout the season.”
Most of the Lady Broncos also had the opportunity to further strengthen that bond in volleyball. They won a second consecutive district championship and advanced all the way to the regional quarterfinals.
“I’m super lucky that they already built that relationship and that winning tradition in volleyball,” coach Harris said. “I know winning breeds winning. So, that winning tradition and that relationship that they built and that trust they started in volleyball bled into basketball.”
The move-ins this year also caused a reshuffling in Sonora’s roster.
Players like Aislin Nixon, Angela Gonzales, Aleasha Smith and Christina Garza played the majority of the minutes for Sonora last year. This year they’ve turned into role players, coming off the bench in certain situations as a supplement to the starting five.
“You can’t say enough about Angela Gonzales, Aislin Nixon, Christina Garza and the rest of them. Aleasha Smith is coming along nicely,” coach Harris said. “They had to play maximum minutes last year. So, they’re the ones who don’t really get enough credit for us doing so well when they have to play a completely different ballgame than they did last year.”
Their multifaceted team also makes Sonora feel pretty dangerous entering the final stages of the regular season. Johnson and Skylar Harris are averaging just north of 10 points per game. Johnson is also averaging 7.6 rebounds and 4.5 steals per game.
“We’re super dangerous,” junior forward Brae Harris said. “We have our nights where we’re off. But whenever we decide to show up and show who we really are, it’s super dangerous.”
During her family’s stays at places like Mineola and Hondo, Brae and her sister Raeven never experienced a playoff lull like Sonora went through. After growing her bond with her classmates and new home, last night’s playoff clinching win was “special” to her.
“It’s such an awesome thing to experience and be a part of,” Brae said. “Just to share that with my team is so amazing.”
Sonora will close out their district schedule on Feb. 5 at Grape Creek. They will host Bandera in a playoff warm up game on Saturday Feb. 9 to conclude their regular season.