‘A Longhorn For Life’
(CEDAR HILL, TEXAS) Ashlaa Zuniga gained a state championship as an assistant coach and practically went to the NCAA Last 4 as a participant, however there was nothing fairly just like the morning of November 16, 2019 when she confronted her alma mater as an opposing head coach for the primary time.
Zuniga, a Cedar Hill Excessive College Class of 2005 Graduate, turned the top ladies basketball coach at Waxahachie in 2019.
“For anybody who graduated from Cedar Hill or performed sports activities there, you’re a Longhorn for all times,” Zuniga mentioned. “However I’m a aggressive particular person, and I needed to win to maintain enjoying within the match.”
Zuniga’s WHS staff was aggressive in a 48-40 loss to a Cedar Hill squad that reached the State Quarterfinals later that season.
These emotions had been amplified on the night of January 7, 2020 when Zuniga visited David Milson Gymnasium as an opponent for the primary time.
“I received overwhelmed with a way of emotion,” Zuniga mentioned. “I used to be enthusiastic about being again in that fitness center and the way blessed I used to be to have the chance. Once I accepted the Waxahachie job, I knew they had been in the identical district as Cedar Hill, and that performed a consider me taking the job.”
Teaching The Waxahachie Girl Indians
Zuniga is 0-4 in opposition to the Girl Longhorns to this point, however it’s a recreation that she all the time circles on the calendar. The groups solely met as soon as this season, as Waxahachie’s journey to Cedar Hill in late January was canceled on account of COVID-19.
“It’s not simply one other recreation – it’s Cedar Hill,” Zuniga mentioned. “Cedar Hill is close to and expensive to my coronary heart.”
Zuniga’s affinity for Longhorn Nation isn’t shocking. She nonetheless lives in Cedar Hill (till her new residence in Waxahachie is full this spring). Each Zuniga and her two siblings attended Plummer Elementary (the place their mom taught), Permenter Center College and Cedar Hill Excessive College from Kindergarten by means of commencement.
Zuniga has made historical past at Waxahachie as the primary Feminine African American head coach.
“I all the time inform folks ‘simply because it’s by no means occurred earlier than doesn’t imply it all the time has to remain that manner,” Zuniga mentioned.
Zuniga mentioned she was “intrigued” by the chance to educate in a highschool with one sports-playing highschool – much like Cedar Hill.
“It jogged my memory of Cedar Hill in the way that the community rallies behind their groups,” Zuniga mentioned.
Zuniga was succeeded by Lesli Priebe, who gained 523 profession video games, together with a Class 4A State Championship in 2006.
Including to the problem is competing in District 6A-11, which incorporates the previous two state champions – DeSoto (2021), Duncanville (2020), a Cedar Hill staff that’s reached at the least the Regional Quarterfinals for the previous seven seasons and a Mansfield staff that was ranked within the High 25 this 12 months.
Alongside the way in which, Zuniga has earned the respect of her friends, together with Cedar Hill head coach Nicole Collins.
“I feel she has completed an excellent job of getting her ladies to play exhausting,” Collins mentioned. “We undoubtedly need to be able to play once we play Waxahachie.”
FROM A LONGHORN TO AN AGGIE
When Zuniga performed seventh grade basketball at Permenter, her head coach was Barbara Brown-McCoy, a neighborhood ladies’s basketball legend. Brown-McCoy was a part of the 1980 USA Olympic Ladies’s Basketball Group that by no means competed as a result of 1980 Olympic Boycott.
In eighth grade, Zuniga’s coach was Melanie Benjamin, present CHISD Director of Athletics.
When she arrived at Cedar Hill High School in 2001, the top coach was Jim Murphy, who had guided the Girl Longhorns to the State Last 4 only a few years earlier.
Zuniga is grateful for Murphy’s foresight, which allowed her to achieve priceless expertise on the Junior Varsity stage in 2001-2002.
“Coach Murphy mentioned ‘You might be on varsity, however you gained’t play and also you in all probability gained’t get higher, or you’ll be able to play on JV and get higher, so you’ll be able to contribute on varsity as a sophomore.”
That’s precisely what occurred, though Amy Tennison succeeded Murphy as the top coach in 2002-2003.
Zuniga began as a sophomore ahead, as Cedar Hill superior to the Space Spherical of the playoffs.
What She Realized As a Participant
Tennison coached Zuniga for 3 years in highschool and later, as an assistant coach at Texas A&M. They’ve confronted each other as head coaches twice, splitting the 2 video games.
“Ashlaa is a really proficient younger girl with a robust mindset,” mentioned Tennison, who’s at the moment the top coach at Midlothian. “All the pieces she has completed has been due to her work ethic and being dedicated to her greatest, and that’s true now for the youngsters she coaches. She is all the time working to lift their stage.”
Zuniga was ranked sixty fourth in a senior class of roughly 464 college students. She acquired scholarship gives from universities all through the nation.
Lecturers was a key consider her choice so she selected Texas A&M the place she performed for the legendary Gary Blair, a Dallas native who coached Brown-McCoy at South Oak Cliff.
“Coach Blair is a household oriented coach, which is large since you don’t come by that always within the school world,” Zuniga mentioned. “He was huge about gamers having the ability to play in entrance of their hometowns. I respect numerous issues he did for us. We didn’t perceive that he didn’t need to do these issues.”
On April Idiot’s Day 2008 in Oklahoma Metropolis, the Aggies weren’t joking round with Tennessee within the Elite Eight, in Zuniga’s Senior Season.
Though the Girl Vols edged A&M, 53-45 and went on to win the NCAA Championship that season, it set the inspiration for the Aggies.
“If we’d have gained that recreation, we undoubtedly may have gained the championship in 2008,” Zuniga mentioned.
The freshmen on that 2008 A&M Group, together with Sydney Colson, would lead the Aggies to this system’s first-ever NCAA Championship as seniors in 2011.
“The Tennessee loss set the inspiration and the starvation for these freshmen,” Zuniga mentioned.
One other spotlight at A&M was an exhibition recreation in opposition to the 2008 Olympic Group throughout which Zuniga acquired a praise from Lisa Leslie.
Zuniga had alternatives to play professionally, however she couldn’t bear being away from her household for 3 quarters of the 12 months. That they had attended all of her residence video games and lots of the highway contests over time.
A COACHING JOURNEY
It wasn’t till later in her profession at A&M that Zuniga determined she needed to pursue a profession in training as a trainer/coach.
After incomes a level in Agricultural Management and Schooling, Zuniga accepted a place as an assistant coach at Anderson-Shiro, which then competed in Class 2A. The varsity, positioned in rural Grimes County is about half-hour east of the A&M campus in School Station.
Zuniga was a 21-year-old educating assistant in 2008-2009, and she or he was an assistant coach in three sports activities – basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I beloved it there, I discovered quite a bit about endurance, and I made a decision that I needed to deal with basketball,” Zuniga mentioned.
Whereas looking for a job on-line the next offseason, Zuniga discovered a ladies basketball opening at a Class 5A faculty (on the time the very best classification in Texas) within the Houston suburbs, positioned simply over an hour south of the A&M campus.
It was Cypress-Fairbanks Excessive College – identified to just about everybody as Cy-Honest. They’re the unique highschool in what’s now one of many largest faculty districts within the state.
They had been lower than two years faraway from a state championship, and their prime participant was the very best highschool ladies basketball participant in the US, Chiney Ogwumike, who now performs for the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. Ogwumike, a Stanford Graduate, turned the primary Black lady to host a nationwide radio present for ESPN.
The Girl Bobcats’ second greatest participant was Cassie Peoples, who went on to play for Texas and Florida earlier than turning into a profitable Business Actual Property agent in San Antonio.
Cy-Honest’s head coach was (and nonetheless is) Ann Roubique, who simply accomplished her thirty first season with this system.
“At 22 years previous, you don’t perceive the magnitude of these form of gamers,” Zuniga mentioned. “Not solely had been they phenomenal athletes, they had been among the most respectful younger girls. They didn’t care about what number of factors they scored. They simply needed to win.”
Throughout Zuniga’s first season on the employees, Cy-Honest gained the 5A State Championship in convincing vogue within the Championship Recreation over fellow Houston space opponent, Fort Bend Hightower.
But it surely was the state semifinal recreation in Austin that tugged at Zuniga’s heartstrings. The Girl Bobcats edged Cedar Hill, 54-50, on the afternoon on March 4, 2010.
“It was anxious,” Zuniga mentioned. “On one hand, you’ve gotten your highschool alma mater. We hadn’t been to state in a bit of over a decade. My sister was a Cedar Hill scholar on the time. However then you definately’re there together with your time, attempting to get them to win. That recreation was the (precise) championship recreation, proper there.”
“I can’t put into phrases what successful a state championship means. It’s one thing that individuals coach their complete profession and by no means get there. I used to be 22, and I don’t assume I actually understood the magnitude of it.”
Zuniga labored on Roubique’s employees for six seasons and discovered an excellent deal from her mentor.
Zuniga mentioned Roubique gave her alternatives to be taught that head coaches don’t typically current to their assistants, together with inviting her to playoff conferences and dealing alongside her on roles comparable to buying and budgeting.
She referred to as Roubique a “phenomenal mentor.”
Roubique was impressed with Zuniga, so it wasn’t a shock when the eleventh highschool in Cy-Honest ISD (Cypress Park) employed Zuniga to start out its ladies basketball program in 2016.
“Ashlaa is likely one of the greatest coaches I’ve labored with,” Roubique mentioned. “She was very younger when she joined the Cy-Honest employees, however in her strategy, she demanded respect from the athletes that had been only a few years youthful than her. Her basketball background was sturdy, coming from Cedar Hill and Texas A&M. Actually, I felt I discovered from her. I felt snug giving her the chance to educate and never simply watch from the sidelines.”
Zuniga loved her time at Cypress Park, however her husband accepted a job supply within the Dallas space, and it was a chance to return residence.
The couple and their youngsters moved to Cedar Hill the place they stay within the residence the place Zuniga and her siblings grew up.
Alongside the way in which, Zuniga discovered you can put together to turn into a head coach to a degree, however there’s nothing like precise expertise.
Zuniga is counting the times till the schedule is launched, and she will discover out the times of the 2 matchups in opposition to her beloved alma mater.