This year marked one of the best performances by the Royse City High School girls varsity basketball team, but the team’s achievements go beyond the growth that was seen on the court.

The team’s road to being named bi-district champion and making a push in the playoffs wasn’t easy, however. Coach Dallas Bookout’s Bulldogs met challenges along the way, but with each game found their confidence in the team and themselves.

After hovering around 500 last season, the Bulldogs ended with an overall record of 31-4 this year and a district record of nine wins and one loss.

More importantly, Bookout said, the team found a single focus on playing through tough moments and not taking wins for granted.

Captains and leaders on the 2018-19 team spoke to the Herald-Banner about their personal growth from previous year until their breakout season.

Each student said they are happy to walk away from the season with life lessons that will stay with them into adulthood.

Senior Essence Watts plays the post in Bookout’s squad and is a captain on the team. She said the season was a new experience for her because of the role that she played as the emotional support of the team.

“If anyone needed help, or wanted to talk about something they could come to me for support,” Watts said. “I enjoyed it. I thought it was cool that they looked up to me to comfort them.”

Watts was not always the voice of comfort for the team, however. In fact, she said she would rarely speak up, even when she knew her message could help the team.

She still wasn’t the one to make speeches or public gestures, but Watts said she found a way to get her message across to her teammates to add excitement to their play.

“It’s definitely giving me confidence in speaking up and telling people how I feel about a situation,” she said.

Another unexpected element to the season, Watts said, was her hand injury that kept her out of a good part of the season.

Despite playing fewer minutes due to her injury, Watts said she could not ask for a better experience.

She said she will remember learning from every player on the team, even those who were younger than her.

“Once I came back we only had two games left,” she said as fought back tears. “This whole season to me is like the best. I feel so corny for saying this but it’s true. I’m going to miss everyone here.”

Kailynne Chaney is also one of the seniors who will be graduating and parting with the team. Chaney, who is interested in a marketing and modeling career, said she learned how to keep her emotions under control for the team.

Chaney said she learned how to focus her energy to revitalizing the team when they needed it most. Her team members said that she was a “spark” to the team during its toughest games.

“So I have an attitude,” Chaney said, letting out a nervous chuckle. “And this season, I learned how to control it.”

She said a major turning point for the team was their victory against Longview High School. Chaney also pointed to the team’s first place finish at an area tournament as a highlight of her high school athletic career.

Maci Bookout has to unique experience of playing under her father’s coaching. As a junior, she’ll be preparing to take on the roles that will be passed on to her by Chaney and Watts.

“We’re going to have a good season next year, but without them it’s going to feel different because they’ve always been there,” Maci Bookout said.

Maci, who was a captain on the team this year, said she always felt like the young gun who was playing with the seniors, but is happy to be a leader on the team that can speak to both the younger students as well as the seniors on the team.

“I didn’t expect this at all. I expected us to be good and better than last few years, but this year everything just came together,” Bookout said.

Kyla McMinn is the youngest captain on the team as a sophomore. One of the things that she will miss most is having Watts on the team, who has been a role model for her.

McMinn, like the rest of the team, said the game against Longview, felt like everything fell into place.

“After that game we learned how to push through until the end when it got close. We felt like winners and we had that confidence in ourselves,” McMinn said.

McMinn said she wants to foster the same mentorship that she received from Watts with young members on the team like Maggi Hutka, who played on varsity this year as a freshman.

For the leaders on the team, this season was not only affirmation, it was redemption for previous years. For Head Coach Bookout, however, it was a rare teaching experience that he will cherish.

“I love to win. I’m probably the most competitive person ever, but wins and losses – that stuff is second duty to all of this,” Coach Bookout said. “We’re here to teach the things that are going to help them throughout their life, what they need to know to be good successful people.”