Canyon packs bags for state after upset of No. 1 Glen Rose

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Canyon’s Iliana Hernandez and Grace Sutton celebrate after the Lady Eagles downed No. 1 Glen Rose to win the Region I-4A championship at the Rip Griffin Center in Lubbock on Saturday. [Joe Garcia III/ Press Pass Sports]
LUBBOCK – How bout those Canyon Lady Eagles!

Pretty much written off as a state-bound team because of a sluggish early December and then seeing a 48-game, six-year district winning streak end on Jan. 5, this Canyon Lady Eagles team proved worthy of adding another chapter to the storied history of one of Texas’ greatest girls basketball programs.

No. 8 Canyon looked impressive in all phases of the game Saturday afternoon punching its ticket to the 2024 UIL girls state tournament by upsetting No. 1-ranked Glen Rose 47-37 in the Region I-4A finals before 400 fans in the Rip Griffin Center at Lubbock Christian University.

Canyon makes its 29th trip to the state tournament, the second most appearances by any school in Texas history behind leader Nazareth at 30. The Lady Eagles will be looking to win their 21st state championship, already sitting with the second most titles at 20 in UIL Texas girls basketball history behind only Naz (24).

Canyon head coach Tate Lombard talks to his team against Glen Rose on Saturday. [Joe Garcia III/ Press Pass Sports]
Canyon won its last state title in 2021 under current fourth-year Lady Eagles coach Tate Lombard.

Lombard was fighting back teary emotions when the buzzer sounded ending the sweet, sweet win over Glen Rose.

“This team came so far and I’m so proud of the growth they had,” said Lombard, making his fourth regional appearance and second trip to state with Canyon. “It seems the most recent team is always the most special (to make it to state), but this was truly special. That’s what those emotions are about.”

Canyon (29-6), with one senior seeing playing time Saturday, also washed away the bad taste in their mouth left from a 45-36 loss one year ago in this same regional final game to this same Glen Rose team on this same LCU court.

“That loss last year definitely was motivation to us,” said Canyon junior Jaylee Moss, who played all 40 minutes Saturday and was a steadying influence for her teammates throughout with six points and five rebounds. “We definitely came back stronger. We said this is our Revenge Tour because we knew we needed to beat them and we knew we needed to win this one and that was our goal.”

Canyon won thanks to a strong first half, pressure man-to-man defense, excellent 3-point shooting and seemingly producing defensive stops or a timely basket to answer any Glen Rose momentum.

Glen Rose, winner of 72 of its last 77 games, had stormed into this regional final. In four playoff games the Lady Tigers averaged 64 points and won by an average margin of 33 points. Its closest playoff game was a 14-pointer over Randall Friday night in the regional semis.

Canyon sent a message early in this one that things would be different by holding Glen Rose to 10 points in the first half on 4-of-23 field goal attempts (17.4 percentage) and led by 12.

“Really, since the second half of district and in the playoffs the girls have done a great job guarding individually,” Lombard said. “But they have also helped each other out and trust the coaches. It’s been those sorts of things that have improved our defense.”

While Glen Rose was struggling to score points, Canyon was not, especially in the second quarter to build the 22-10 lead at intermission.

Canyon’s Jaylee Moss drives to the basket against Glen Rose. [Joe Garcia III/ Press Pass Sports]
In the second quarter, Canyon was patient against Glen Rose’s man-to-man defense (the Lady Tigers had opened in a 2-3 zone but jumped out of it five minutes into the game) and made six of its eight field goal attempts. Four of the six made baskets were 3-pointers by four different players in Moss, sophomore Kambrie Graser, sophomore Tai Wright and junior Danisen Woodruff.

Canyon finished the game scoring 24 of its 47 points from beyond on the arc going 8-of-16 with six players combining to make the treys.

Wright and Graser led the way with two 3-pointers each, while Moss, Woodruff, senior Lliana Hernandez, junior Sydnee Winfrey and freshman Theresa Mode each contributed one.

Canyon’s shooting kept Glen Rose from producing a strong run against the Lady Eagles who never gave up the lead after two Graser free throws at the 3:02 mark of the first quarter put Canyon ahead 6-5.

Lombard said shooting threes was not a game plan.

“Whoever is open, shoots it,” Lombard said. “That’s what we tell them.”

“Yes, oh my gosh we shot the threes,” Moss said. “We practice that every day. We shoot after practice and try to make 50 threes, that’s what Coach Tate tells us to do. We are confident in our shots. We tell each other to keep shooting. We are just that kind of team.”

Down 22-10 at half, everybody in the gym, most of all the Canyon players and coaches, knew the No. 1-ranked team in the state would come out swinging in the second half.

But Canyon outscored Glen Rose 8-2 the opening minutes building a 30-12 lead as – you guessed it – Hernadez and Wright made threes and Graser fed Winfrey on a sweet backdoor cut for a layup.

Glen Rose did show signs of life producing an 11-2 run fueled by the gritty and skilled play of senior guard Grace Booth. Booth scored a game-high 19 points making a trio of threes and leading her team in rebounding with seven.

But on this day Canyon would not be denied.

Glen Rose cut the Canyon lead to six – the closest it would get to Canyon in the second half – early in the fourth quarter.

Each time tournament MVP Winfrey had an answer.

Canyon’s Sydnee Winfrey floats up a shot against Glen Rose on Saturday. [Joe Garcia III/ Press Pass Sports]
Winfrey opened Canyon’s scoring in the fourth quarter with a baseline drive making a tough over the head shot, answered Glen Rose’s Alexis Rynders 3-pointer (making the score 35-29) with a 3-pointer of her own, then when Rynders hit another three, Winfrey drove for a basket and a 40-32 lead with 4:02 to play.

When Graser made a clutch three with 2:22 remaining, Canyon led 43-32 and handled Glen Rose’s strategy to foul and put them on the line the last minute.

Winfrey didn’t let the big stage phase her as she led Canyon with 15 points, led Canyon in rebounds with 10 and helped cover Glen Rose’s 6-4 post Aimee Flippen. Flippen scored the games’ opening three points 12 seconds in and finished with five points.

“That’s my type of game,” Winfrey said of the physical nature of the contest throughout. “I had great help from my teammates. Aimme is a great player and we were able stop her.

“I just knew they were going to come out strong after halftime and were going to go on a run. I knew for my team I had to find open shots and find my teammates open shots. I think we all helped each other do that.”

Graser keyed the win as well joining Winfrey in double figures with 11 points, adding six rebounds and playing marathon minutes at 38.

Joining Booth in double figures for Glen Rose was Rynders with 11, nine of those points arriving on threes within an impressive six-minute stretch during the second half.

No doubt, fans witnessed an intense, every shot contested type of game. And no doubt, this was another Canyon moment in the sun of Texas high school girls basketball.

“It’s awesome,” Lombard said. “This team is awesome.”

Glen Rose   5    10  26  37
Canyon        6    22  33  47
GR- Grace Booth 19, Alexis Rynders 11. C- Sydnee Winfrey 15, Kambrie Graser 11. Records: Glen Rose 33-4; Canyon 29-6.

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