Defend like your hair is on fire, run like the wind, and shoot, shoot, shoot.

Since 2012, that formula has been a good one for coach Jason Boston and the Pleasant Grove Lady Hawks: a 124-61 record, five straight playoff appearances and, in the past four years, two district championships and two second-place finishes.

Heading into the homestretch of the 2017-18 season, Boston has a team that doesn’t have enough players to turn games into track meets, isn’t particularly dangerous outside the three-point line, but sits in first place and should make some noise in the playoffs.

“We’re a solid half-court team that moves the ball down court well,” Boston said this week. “We’ve got to keep moving the ball, moving ourselves, and taking good shots.”

Monique Walker puts up a shot.

Speed and finesse were hallmarks at Hawk gym the past few years, but this group relies more on physical play in the paint, a desire to continuously improve, and tenacity. The team started slowly, dropping five of its first seven before figuring out it was a half-court crew. It has won 14 of 16 since.

That puts the Lady Hawks at 16-7, 5-1 in the district, with four games to play.

A pair of 5-foot-10 senior forwards, Madeline Haak and Monique Walker, are the glue that binds this kettle of Hawks.

Haak, who averages 16.8 points per game, is a four-year starter, which works out to 121 varsity basketball starts going into tonight’s game at home against Atlanta. Haak is a team leader who acts as a coach on the floor, and is one of the most complete players in District 14-4A, or in East Texas, for that matter.

“She’s played some forward and some center, but she has the mind of a point guard,” Boston said. “She has excellent court vision. She sees what’s going to happen before it comes.”

Haak’s a winner in the classroom, too. Medicine is a likely career. She is weighing Harvard and Rice, though she has already been accepted into Baylor’s Honors College.

Walker, who averages 13.2 points a game, transferred to PG as a sophomore and has improved every year. She is a determined competitor. After Haak was sent to the bench in the second quarter Tuesday night with three quick fouls at North Lamar, and with another starter, Abby Hines, unavailable, Walker was a warrior.

She fought for every loose ball and rebound. After the Hawks fell behind by nine in the opening moments of the second half, Walker dropped in four straight three-pointers to pull her team back into the game. PG wound up losing by three when a 3-pint try bounced off the rim at the buzzer.

“Monqiue has always been very athletic, but now she’s added the basketball part to it,” Boston said.

Sha’Nequa Henry moves the ball down court against Liberty-Eylau.

Complementing Haak and Walker is Sha’Nequa Henry, the third Henry sister to play at the Grove. She earned district MVP honors as a freshman and is averaging 12.6 ppg this year. Tall, fast and aggressive, she is a constant force under the boards.

“Sha’Nequa has outstanding vision and she is extremely unselfish,” Boston said, “and sometimes we need her to be more selfish, to take that open shot. She is really tough to defend one-on-one.”

Junior Abby Hines, who has both guard and forward skills, is a key contributor on both ends of the court.

“Abby is a good ball handler who can shoot and drive,” Boston said. “If she’s aggressive, we’re at our best.

Abby Hines hits on an inside jumper

Sophomore Ashanti Levingston, a top-drawer athlete, is the defensive stopper.

“Ashanti always gets the other team’s best shooter, and she’s superb at denying that person the ball,” Boston said. “No matter what defense we play, she does well.

Freshman guard Macy Young, junior forward Noni Hilley, and junior guard Don’Teisha Mixon are key bench contributors.

Though it may look different than the teams that preceded it, the current Lady Hawks team has a chance to be as good or better, but it will take consistency and intensity.

“We have to focus and finish,” Boston said. “We have to do it each possession, each quarter, each game.”

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A veteran journalist and educator, Bill Owney is a 1980 graduate of the University of Florida. Writing awards include APME honors for investigative reporting, the Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Award for public service reporting and numerous awards for editorial, column and news writing. He served as publisher of the Atlanta Citizens Journal and Pittsburg Gazette when each paper won sweepstakes awards from the Texas Press and North and East Texas Press Associations. He spent 15 years as a public school teacher and is an adjunct professor of English at Texarkana College.

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