MEXICO — Opponents couldn’t tame the Mexico Tigers this season.
The Mexico varsity girls basketball team rolled to a 10-0 record. Getting contributions from everyone on the roster, the Tigers worked hard, showed mental toughness, and stayed safe through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m just extremely happy for the kids and the families, and all the hard work the kids put in,” Mexico coach Dominick Anthony said. “The reality of us not probably not having a season, and then to end up having the season we did, I’m just happy for them. I think the kids were just really so happy to be there. They didn’t think we were going to get the chance. They followed all the protocols to make sure we would still have a season. We knew any given day could be our last day.”
The perfect season concluded Saturday with a 61-37 triumph over visiting Altmar-Parish-Williamstown. In that game, sophomore Anyssia Ingersoll led the Tigers with 18 points. Senior Brynn Wills poured in 15 points and led Mexico in assists (3) and steals (5).
Junior Briana Urquhart scored seven points, and senior Melisa Button grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.
Anthony gave much of the credit for the team’s success to the senior trio of Wills, Zianna Gorton, and Button.
“We had great senior leadership,” Anthony said. “Between that and the young talent that we have, they jelled together so well. Really, every one of them had a team-first attitude. They just played for each other. They cared for each other, inside and outside of basketball. That ultimately is what led to our success. Nobody put themselves before the team. It just helped on the court with team chemistry.”
The three seniors set the tone.
“Brynn’s like our sense of calm out there. Although she may not score a lot at times, she does the little things to get us into our offense,” Anthony said. “She knows her defensive role, when to pick up the pace and when to slow things down. She’s basically our floor leader and our coach on the floor.”
Gorton is a force in the low post. “That kid is unbelievable as far as playing down low. She’s just a workhorse down there, getting offensive and defensive rebounds, and just making it tough for teams on the defensive end,” the coach said.
Button is another player that is particularly effective on the defensive end. “She’s another one that’s extremely tough inside, rebounding the ball. Melisa is so aggressive on the glass,” Anthony said. “She led our team in taking charges. She is not afraid to step in front of anybody. Between her energy and her rebounds, that’s where she was able to help us.”
A sophomore spark plug, Ingersoll “is extremely fun to watch,” Anthony said. “Last year we needed her to do a little bit more for us to be successful. This year we didn’t need her to necessarily score as much. We had kids that were capable of doing that. We’re just hoping that she continues to develop. I think between her junior and senior years she’s going to have two great years.”
Urquhart topped the Tigers in rebounding and was yet another force defensively. “She started down low as one of the wings in our 2-3 zone. She’s aggressive on the boards,” Anthony said. “We don’t win games unless we’re rebounding on the defensive end.”
Junior Kendall Cuyler was another valuable player for Mexico. “She’s so good on the defensive end and just has an extremely high basketball IQ. We would put her in when we needed a defensive glue person to really hold us together,” the coach said.
Sophomore Ella McCoy’s role was to provide an offensive spark. “She has a shooter’s mentality. She’s a person we could put into space so she could get an open shot,” Anthony said.
Juniors Emma Lawler and Autumn Parkhurst were effective coming into the game to relieve Gorton in the middle. Anthony said Lawler will likely play both inside and outside next season.
Ella Blunt is a promising freshman. “She earned the right to be on the team based on the hard work she put in during the offseason,” Anthony said. “This year was a learning year for her, learning what it takes at the varsity level. We’re going to need her big time next year.”
Another factor in Mexico’s perfect season was Assistant Coach Casey Jones. “He’s been a huge help for us. He’s so good with the kids in terms of the mental aspect of the game. He’s so good at communicating with them,” Anthony said. “They respond so well to him.”
Collectively, the group proved to be unbeatable.
“I had 10 kids that could really compete and get on the floor at any moment,” Anthony said. “When people had off nights, some of those others were able to step up. That showed throughout quite a few games.”
It showed right away in the season-opening contest against a tough Phoenix team. The Tigers trailed after three quarters before rallying for a 38-35 victory.
“We were down most of the game. We chipped away in the late third, early fourth quarter,” Anthony said.
Among the key contributors in that game were Ingersoll (13 points), Gorton (10 points, 10 rebounds), Urquhart (7 points, 12 rebounds), Wills (3 assists, 4 rebounds), Lawler (5 points, 6 rebounds), and Button (4 points, 4 rebounds).
Two games against Hannibal were also tight. The second meeting was knotted at halftime before Mexico took control.
Every time the Tigers were tested, they responded.
“In years past, we wouldn’t have been able to respond like we did. We probably would have been on the other end of it,” Anthony said. “One of the things that we tried to talk to the kids about was practicing good habits. When we can do that, it leads to our success. It’s a certain mentality that you have to bring to the game. It’s a certain mental toughness. We’re just starting to learn how to do that. We showed some of it in glimpses last year, but this year it finally pieced together.”
This was Anthony’s fifth year as the head coach of the varsity girls basketball team at Mexico. He noted that the team struggled in his first few seasons.
“We’re just getting to the point where we can compete at a much higher level,” he said. “When I took it over, there wasn’t a youth program, so we started a youth program, a travel program for fifth and sixth, and seventh and eighth grades. We’re just starting to see those results.”
Prior to that, the Tigers were “behind the 8-ball” facing opponents whose players had the youth program background.
“It makes a huge difference. We’ve slowly but surely improved our wins. But it’s also been about culture. We had a big culture change. The kids are now committed to putting in the extra work. Parents are committed to supporting them and supporting us, and being involved as much as possible. We’ve got great kids and great families throughout the whole program.”
Next season, Mexico will have to try to make up for the loss of the senior standouts.
“There’s no question we’re going to miss those three seniors. They all started for us. Our young kids know they’re going to have to step up,” Anthony said. “Everybody has a role on the team. If we can best play our roles, I think we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”