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Veterans Memorial taking the jump from 4A to 5A in stride

Positivity, team culture steady Patriots in second-ever season

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – After one of the toughest losses of their year -- a 55-51 loss to district champion Kerrville Tivy -- the Veterans Memorial girls basketball team quickly turned the page.

Literally.

In what has become a team tradition this season, the Patriots stood in a circle at centercourt and read an excerpt from Jon Gordon's "The Power of a Positive Team."

"It's our way of coming together as a team, coming in locked in and focused," said senior forward Arianna Aguirre. "Coach usually picks out a certain chapter that will get us through the day. This time, it was about being positive and being able to get through adversity -- being able to keep your head up no matter what happens."

"It's so repetitive about being positive with teammates and showing your character," explained head coach Christina Camacho. "I keep hearing the same words over and over, but that's what these kids need. We've been doing more team stuff, being more positive and focusing on being better team players, better coaches and being a better program overall. Not so much on the x's and o's, but how we treat each other and respect each other. I think it's truly helped them."

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Aguirre agreed, "It was a wakeup call. This isn't over. Yes we got second in district, but here we are. We still have a chance to go to State, and that's what we're working toward."

That positive energy has helped Veterans Memorial overcome a difficult transition from Class 4A to 5A competition. Last year, the Patriots rolled right through 4A competition, finishing as State-runners up. This year, they've wrapped up the regular season with a 14-2 record in District 26-5A play, 27-6 overall.

"I think the competition made us want to work harder, knowing that we're going to be playing higher-caliber teams," said Aguirre. "We work harder at practice, we put in more time after school. I think we've improved a lot because we knew that more competition was coming."

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This Veterans Memorial team has had the unique opportunity to establish a new identity and culture. This is the program's second year competing at the varsity level, and with only one senior on the roster, that means leadership and accountability are expected of every player.

"That stays on my mind a lot because I am the first graduating senior here," Aguirre said. "We motivate each other to do better, and I know there are times where it's frustrating for me. My team does a great job of picking me up and telling me that it's okay to make mistakes."

"I feel more connected with these athletes," Camacho explained. "We've started from the very beginning and I've seen them grow. Just seeing these freshman become juniors -- they've changed tremendously. They've matured a lot, and they've grown into better athletes and better young women."

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Just because the team and program are still new, the players' familiarity with each other is not.

"We know everybody's strengths," explained junior guard/forward Sahara Jones. "We've been together since middle school. We all train together, we all play on the same teams. Chemistry came naturally."

And even though last year's playoff run took place at the 4A level, that experience of playing in big games has the team confident they can do the same thing at the 5A level.

"I think we're going to make it back to State again," said Jones. "A lot of people don't believe it, but they're not in here with us every day. They don't know what we have in us. Last year we made it when people didn't think we could, but we didn't finish it. This year, we want to finish it. We didn't know what we could do last year. Now that we know what we're capable of, we know we can finish."

"We've been working extremely hard," Aguirre said. "I just want all of this hard work to pay off."

The Patriots now wait to find out who they'll play when the playoffs begin in the Bi-District Finals on Feb. 11th.

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