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Marble Falls girls basketball has the pieces to accomplish goals

CAPTION: The 2021-22 Marble Falls Lady Mustangs return one of the most experienced and talented rosters in the state. The Lady Mustangs begin their season on the road at Comal Davenport Nov. 4. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

The Marble Falls High School girls basketball team wants to add another chapter to a storied program and has the players with the determination, talent and grit to do it.

The Lady Mustangs, who went 21-14 and 7-7 in District 25-5A, return seven seniors and a junior who are driven for better regular season results than finishing fourth in the district race. A drop to District 24-4A, which includes Burnet, Jarrell, Lago Vista and Lampasas, might be what was ordered.

Fans can get their first look at the Lady Mustangs when they travel to face Comal Davenport, 23255 FM 3009 in San Antonio, at 5 and 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4.

Head coach John Berkman, who is entering his seventh season at the helm, noted the challenges of playing in District 25-5A, which included Cedar Park, Leander, Leander Glenn, Leander Rouse, Georgetown High, Georgetown East View and Liberty Hill. Cedar Park won back-to-back state championships in 2021 and 2022 and had to defeat district foes Georgetown and Liberty Hill in the Class 5A Region IV final to get to the state tournament.

“We were in the toughest Class 5A district in the state, top to bottom,” he said. “Leander was the best 0-14 team in a district in the state. If they had been in another district, I think they could have won a district title. Dropping down to any district in Class 4A is a much needed breath of fresh air. And we’ll have to play every game every single night. You can’t ever underestimate an opponent. There’s a lot of good coaches and a lot of strong teams.”

Indeed. All five teams advanced to the playoffs a year ago. Burnet, formerly of District 19-4A, and Lago Vista, formerly of District 25-3A, each won their district crowns by going 8-0 in league play. The Lady Dawgs advanced to the Class 4A Region III championship where they lost to Sour Lake Hardin Jefferson, which finished as the Class 4A state runner-up. The Lady Vikings lost to San Antonio Cole in the regional quarterfinals. Jarrell, which was in the same district as Burnet, finished third and lost in the area round to Palenstine. Lampasas finished third in District 6-4A and lost to Burkburnett in the first round.

But the Lady Mustangs aren’t intimidated because they have been in districts where foes have enjoyed lots of success. And Berkman has the pieces to accomplish the team’s goals. Marble Falls is led by senior guard Tea Rodriguez, who committed to play for Murray State in mid September, with classmates Mackenzie Farmer, Emma Koziel, Lilly Nesrsta, Emma Bindseil and Alyssa Berkman, the coach’s daughter. Juniors Avie Nail and Lexie Edwards and sophomore Kylie Roberts round out the roster.

“I see maturity in the skill set as they’ve all been working,” John Berkman said. “The mental maturity is a big deal. They all have a lot of experience and game mental maturity is as big as anything.”

While it is guard heavy, the mixture of height, speed and strength give coaches options on line-ups, whether to push the pace or slow down the tempo depending on what they’re trying to accomplish and who they’re playing. The seniors have played together since the seventh grade and most play select basketball in the offseason.

“It’s a lot of fun when you have a team that’s versatile,” John Berkman said. “We’re blessed with size, speed and skill sets on the inside and the outside. And they’ve been together for a long time. Our juniors and sophomores fit well into the mix. There’s a lot of team chemistry, and they play well together. We can put anyone in on the floor in a tough situation in a game and they can all play and are all versatile. Anyone can shoot the ball, and they’re tough enough to rebound. Our two bigs can play outside as well.”

The challenge for opponents is figuring out who to shut down. When defenses have focused on Rodriguez, her teammates have made them pay by taking advantage of their opportunities. Edwards is tall enough, strong enough and physical enough to take up plenty of space in the lane and score, and the younger Berkman is deadly from the outside. The others make the most of their chances, too.

“Our girls understand that if somebody is scoring, we need to get her the ball,” the coach said. “If people want to focus on somebody and leave Emma K open, that’s their choice. Bindseil is one of the better rebounders who really helps push our team.”

To help prepare his team for district play, which starts Jan. 6 against Burnet at Max Copeland Gym, the Lady Mustangs will compete at the Leta Andrews Battle on the Bay tournament Dec. 1-3 and gthe Mansfield Spring Creek Invitational in Corpus Christi Dec. 28-30. Mansfield is considered the top holiday tournament in the state, while the Battle on the Bay invites the top teams in Region III to compete. Marble Falls also will host its Hill Country Classic Nov. 17-19. All three tournaments will have more than 30 teams playing.

“We tell our girls we want to prepare them for the tough competition they’ll see in district and from the beginning, we try to make sure our schedule is tough,” Berkman said.

Edwards, who has received offers from Principia College in Elsah, Ill., and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, said she is looking forward to this season, pointing out the program has come a long way from the four wins it had during the 2020-21 season.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “I look forward to it. The drop to 4A is going to be good competition. We had the 5A state champs in our district the last two years. I think everyone has a better mentality mostly because we have seven seniors on our team. We’re working and improving. We have very high expectations.”

She said she plans to wait until she’s a senior to commit to a collegiate program.

As for the program, it has 35 athletes playing basketball this season.

“We have a great number of freshmen and a lot of sophomores returning,” John Berkman said. “We’re excited for that.”

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