After finishing 36-1 and reaching the regional semifnals last year, the Brennan girls basketball team was expected to contend for a berth in the state tournament this season.
Those were the lofty expectations Koty Cowgill faced when he succeeded Randy Evans, who had coached the Bears in Brennan's first two years of existence, last summer.
But you know what they say about best-laid plans.
Before the Bears played their first game, they already had lost two of their best players -- senior point guard Alyssa Crockett and junior post Kealani Marquez -- to season-ending knee injuries. The team took another blow when senior post Adriana Green suffered a knee injury in Brennan's eighth game and was lost for the season.
"It didn't look good for a while," said Cowgill, an assistant coach at UTSA for seven seasons before moving to Brennan. "When we lost all those kids, we had to play differently."
Undaunted, the Bears closed ranks and overcame a slow start to stay within reach of their goals.
Led by senior Kiara Etheridge, a transfer from Marble Falls who missed the second half of last season with a knee injury, Brennan went undefeated in District 28-4A and clinched the regional title with a 49-36 victory against Cedar Park Vista Ridge last Saturday.
The Bears made history as the first Brennan team to advance to a state tournament in any sport.
Brennan (38-0) plays Georgetown (32-4) in the 4A state semifinals at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Erwin Center in Austin.
Georgetown No. 1, Brennan No. 7 in final TABC rankings
Two other San Antonio-area teams, Steele and Poth, also earned berths in the University Interscholastic League state tournament.
Steele (32-5) faces Pflugerville (38-0) in the 5A semifinals at 8:30 p.m. Friday, and Poth (28-5) meets Merkel (37-1) in the 2A semifinals at 10 a.m. Friday. All games are at the Erwin Center.
Georgetown finished the season No. 1 in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches' final 4A rankings two weeks ago. Brennan was No. 7.
"Their discipline is great," Cowgill said of the Eagles. "The way they move the ball is tremendous. They get the shots they want to get every time, and they're not going to shoot until they get the shot they want to get.
"They have a real pecking order on the team. You can tell their best kids are going to shoot the majority of their shots, which is the way that it should be. I don't think that you get to this point of the season if you don't do that."
Cowgill, 32, will be going against one of the top coaches in state history. Rhonda Farney has more than 900 career victories and has led Georgetown to six of its nine state-tournament appearances.
Brennan started the season 2-4 and was 7-8 before setting sail on a 23-game winning streak that has carried them to the state tournament.
The Bears went 16-0 in district play and beat Boerne Champion (44-33), Leander (53-35) and Kerrville Tivy (44-24) in the first three rounds of the playoffs, earning a berth in the regional tournament for the second year in a row.
Boclair, Etheridge set the pace for Bears
Brennan rolled past Corpus Christi Ray 55-26 in the regional semifinals before punching its ticket to Austin with the win over Vista Ridge.
"I definitely don't get the feeling, and from what we've talked about all season as a team, that our goal has been reached by any means," Cowgill said Wednesday. "Our goal has been to win state, not just to make it to the state tournament. We said that from the very first practice of the year.
"Of course, we had some hurdles to get out of the way with some kids getting injured. But it's been a next-man attitude and the kids have really stepped up and grown and developed, and put us where we are. We have a chance, a chance."
With Crockett, Marquez and Green sidelined, Etheridge stepped in and picked up the slack by making a smooth transition from the post position to shooting guard. Etheridge, 5-foot-11, averages 13.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists.
"Her moving in was huge," Cowgill said. "It's been awesome. She's such a personable, likable kid. That's made it so easy for a kid that's a real alpha on the court, who wants the ball all the time and is a great scorer, to be accepted.
"Our entire team has gravitated toward her and loves the fact that she makes plays and thrives off of that. She attacks the basket relentlessly. Her pull-up jumper is really nice. She rebounds well. She's just a versatile player. She gets other kids involved."
Six-foot senior Tanaeya Boclair, who starts at small forward and is one of the Bears' most versatile players, leads the team in scoring (15.4) and rebounding (10.8). Boclair started at center last year, but Cowgill moved her to forward to take advantage of her athletic ability.
"Kiara and Tanaeya are our leaders," Cowgill said. "They dictate our style. Tanaeya is really strong. She does such a good job for us at the high post. She's a good passer and makes good decisions."
Brennan has one of tallest teams at state tournament
Brennan's other starters are senior point guard Ashley Graham, junior forward Eliza Martinez (6-2) and sophomore center Deja Mason (6-3). Mason and Martinez average 9.2 and 8.9 rebounds, respectively.
Junior post Tia Mason (6-2), Deja's sister, comes off the bench and gives the Bears more size up front.
With six players at least 5-11, Brennan has one of the tallest teams at the state tournament.
Etheridge moved into the Brennan attendance zone last August after her parents got jobs in the Northside Independent School District. Her mother, Rhonda, is on the faculty at Brennan.
"I definitely felt bad when I had to leave my team and my friends at Marble Falls," Etheridge said. "But my teammates here really made it easy for me because everybody was really friendly and nice. They accepted me right away, so it was good. It was an easy adjustment, for sure."
Etheridge also has bonded with Cowgill, who has had to adjust to a new school himself.
"He's young so he kind of knows what we're thinking as young athletes," Etheridge said. "He's been through the whole college game, so he's prepared us skill-wise and everything for what's next."
Cowgill deflected credit to his players.
"I've been extremely impressed with their desire to work and drive to improve throughout the season," he said. "I love our energy. We compete and we're intense. We've figured out how to play basketball, and once you learn it, you don't forget it. It's been amazing."