Girls basketball

Temple’s Taliyah Johnson (11) is one of nine returning Tem-Cats for coach RaShonta LeBlanc this season, which begins tonight.

RaShonta LeBlanc made it clear and kept it concise when explaining what she expects from her team. Entering her second season as head coach of the Temple Tem-Cats, LeBlanc doesn’t seek perfection, but she does want maximum effort out of her players in every practice and every game.

“The mentality part of the game is what we really want to focus on,” said LeBlanc, who spent two years as head coach at Beaumont Central before coming to Temple prior to last season. “We want them to have the mentality that they are the best team and they’re going to compete. That’s something I would definitely like to do this year.”

The Tem Cats — who host Buda Hays tonight in their 2019-20 season opener — spent most of last year behind the learning curve as LeBlanc and her players adjusted to one another. With a new year ready to tipoff, both parties know what to expect.

“We have better relationships going into this year than I did last year coming in as a new coach,” LeBlanc said. “We’re not having to go through this process of them getting used to me and me getting used to them. For those returning, they know my expectations and they know what they will get from me.”

Temple tallied an 11-17 record last year and finished seventh in District 12-6A at 6-10, missing out on the playoffs a year after going 31-6 and appearing in the program’s first state tournament.

The Tem-Cats return nine players from last season’s roster, including first-team all-district selection senior Wilashia Burleson, senior Chloe Mayfield and junior Taliyah Johnson.

“We have a good number of returners but a lot of those girls didn’t play a lot, so it’s not like we have this overwhelming experience coming back,” LeBlanc said. “If we compete and go out there and play hard, we should compete for a playoff spot. That’s the plan and our goal as a team.”

Along with changing the team’s mindset, LeBlanc also wants to see Temple become a dominant defensive unit.

“We have to be solid on the defensive end for us to win. It’s as simple as that,” LeBlanc said. “That’s what I preach and we’re going to hang our hat on our defense.”

Also set to open the season tonight is Belton, which is at Bryan Rudder. The Lady Tigers have several new faces this year. All-district selections Natasha Blizzard, Nia Williams, Presleigh York and Janna Harvey graduated, leaving Nylah Modeste, Karina Fisher and Jocelyn Brewer as the only returners from last year’s team.

“We’re inexperienced, but I think we make up for a lot of that with effort and intensity,” said coach Brenda Gomez, who enters her ninth season leading the Lady Tigers. “We’ve got a bunch of kids who are trying to contribute and I think it’s going to be a good season to watch kids develop into strong players.”

Belton finished 21-14 and 9-7 in District 12-6A last season and missed out on the playoffs for the second straight year after losing its regular-season finale that ended its postseason hopes.

“A season can go either way,” said Gomez, whose team lost four district contests by four points or less last year. “It doesn’t matter how much talent you have. I think we realized that it’s all about effort and some games we had it and some games we didn’t.”

Belton will rely on newcomers such as sophomores Anna Beamesderfer and Esperanza Moreno, who have already shown promise in the Lady Tigers’ scrimmages, Gomez said.

And like Temple, Belton will fall back on a strong defense throughout the year.

“Defensively, we’ve got to be better about matching up with strong offensive players,” Gomez said. “We’ve got to box out, too. Those are some habits we’ve got to get down and work on daily.”