These are good times—again—for the Faith Academy Lady basketball Flames and their coach. Jerry English owns 997 wins in a Hall of Fame career, and his team appears headed for a fourth consecutive annual membership in the exclusive Final Four club. The Flames of Marble Falls have been big-time successful in English’s five years at the helm, but they are a “can-they-win-the-big-one” 0-3 in the previous state semifinals.
On February 5, Faith wrapped up its fourth consecutive district title in TAPPS conference 2A—Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools. The Flames captured their 31st win of the season in a warm-up contest the following day and opened the playoffs, February 9, after our print deadline.
This story will focus on the team and its leader, as both go after prestigious accomplishments.
Taking a Knee
“I thought my coaching days were over,” English recalled, probably with anguish. “I had always demonstrated basketball techniques to the kids, but then I got to where I couldn’t do it because of the pain. After practice I’d be talking to the team, and the trainer would be icing the knee.” On his 40th birthday, some 15 years toward a thousand wins, English let Dr. Russell David Calvo call the offense, and he installed an artificial right knee. The man who said, “I’d look at the other end of the court and wonder if I could get there,” moves and boxes out and covers plenty of hardwood in the Faith gym. He turns 66 this month. No pain anymore from the old football injury.
“No, I wasn’t dreaming about this when I took the Pflugerville job in 1969,” English reveals. Believe me from the start, he’s as modest about all of this as he can be. And, of course, he wasn’t dreaming about a landmark total of wins in girls’ basketball. He wanted to be the next Vince Lombardi. I guess there remains just one Lombardi.
“The 900th victory was overpowering three years ago,” English acknowledged, but he can’t remember the first triumph or the hundredth or 500th.
Quick recap of the legendary coach’s career, facts we’ve written about before in the Llano News: Pflugerville, Sweeny, and Dripping Springs were his UIL jobs for 31 years. There were 10 trips to the Final Four—nine in the championship round!!—but no rings until the State Championship breakthrough at Dripping in 1994.
“It’s just a great honor to play for him,” sophomore Brooke Field declared. “We want to be a part of his thousandth win, because he’s gotten us so far.” Brooke should be a major part: she’s averaging 18.3 points and 10 rebounds a game. Big sister Kendra, a senior, scores 20 a night and leads the team in assists—4.9. Bigger sister Ashley plays for Baylor after pouring in 30 a game for Faith.
“It’s awesome coach English is so close to such a victory total, and we’ve done so well, too,” Kendra states. Playing on the varsity for four seasons, she’s had a role in 127 of the 997 wins, and “He’s been coaching me and working with me since the sixth grade.”
“Heading to the playoffs alters my sleep pattern a bit,” English reports. “I value the moments now more than in October, because then you knew you had so many left in the season. Now it’s possible for one-and-done.” Highly unlikely.
The Flaming Stats of Faith: Not only four straight district crowns, but no losses in those campaigns. 61-point average per game including 93 in one and 90 in another this season.
“It’s so critical we do certain things better,” the coach insists. “I’m talking about free throws and team defense, and we can’t have breakdowns. Also, offensive rebounds are so important. Those that don’t grab those boards will lose.”
Names & Numbers
Leta Andrews, at Granbury, has more than 13-hundred wins, coaching girls, while Joe Lombard has accumulated close to 1,050. He’s at Canyon now, and, en route to two of his state titles there, the Eagles beat the Llano Lady Jackets at the Erwin Center—2003 and 2007.
However…Jerry English has more Ws than Bobby Knight and that other coach K; Jody Conradt didn’t reach a thousand and neither did Dean Smith.
“His greatest asset is his teaching ability,” Faith assistant coach Caressa Gray mentioned. “I’ve never been around someone with a stronger gift of breaking the game down so the girls can understand what to do and do it correctly.”
“To be included in the same neighborhood as Andrews and Lombard,” English points out, “is like being in another stratosphere.”
Pursuit of a Crown
What happened in ’07 and ’08 may not have matched the throbbing knee, but they’ll be remembered just as long. Faith fans are probably saying, “Oh, do we have to hear about this again?” No, put your head on the desk, and no one will disturb you. We’ll roust you in a paragraph.
In ’07, the Flames had a one-and-one to take a three-or-four-point lead over Sacred Heart of Muenster in the semifinals in Fort Worth. Free throw missed, SH rebounds, and the ball goes to Stephanie Kraweitz. She hits a three pointer for the win. In ’08, in San Antonio, Faith leads Texoma Christian by seven in overtime with two minutes left. Texoma concludes the action with a 9-0 run. The Final Four confrontation in ’09 wasn’t as dramatic, but it was another defeat.
“The bad memories linger,” Kendra Field admits, “but those losses do serve as a motivator for us this year. We certainly want to at least get to the finals.”
Brooke: “It hit me at practice: we’re so close, we can win; we’ve got to keep working hard—I can’t wait to get there.”
English: “I told the squad we’re doing more things right than any team I’ve had here except maybe Ashley Field’s senior year (2008). If we can play as one, play together, not athlete vs. athlete, we might win it all.”
He had been retired for several years between Dripping Springs and Faith Academy but, “I missed being part of a team, a feeling that I was needed. Winning wasn’t nearly so important to me as working with the kids. This has truly been the most enjoyable five years of my life.”