Wagner searching for breakthrough at state girls basketball tournament

Photo of David Hinojosa

Wagner addressed its stunning first-round dismissal in a team meeting the morning after a loss to Johnson in the 2022 Class 6A playoffs.

The Thunderbirds had claimed the District 27-6A championship over stalwarts like Judson and Steele, then lost to the fourth-place finisher from 28-6A.

The loss was a harsh learning moment for the Thunderbirds — the better team on paper does not always win.

“We went through the hardest district, and we ended up losing in the first round,” said senior guard Sahvani Sancho, who is signed with St. Mary’s. “I felt like that put some type of pain inside of us. Nobody wanted to feel that again.”

That loss is where Wagner started its journey to this year’s UIL state tournament.

“We were prepared, but we weren’t as focused as much as Johnson,” sophomore guard LA Sneed said. “I feel that impacted us a lot just to know we don’t need to be first-rounded again, and we can make it this far.”

The Thunderbirds (28-4) rebounded with an undefeated district run after returning to Class 5A this season. Now, Wagner is back at the UIL state tournament for the first time since 2015 and for the fifth time overall.

The Thunderbirds face Frisco Liberty (27-10) in a Class 5A state semifinal at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Alamodome. Liberty, a five-time state tournament qualifier, defeated San Antonio Veterans Memorial for the Class 5A championship in 2020.

“We were doing things, waking up before everyone and working to this point, and to finally be here is really big,” Sneed said.

Wagner is 0-4 in its previous trips to the state tournament. Sneed wants to change that trend.

“It’s a great experience knowing that I could be a part of something Wagner has never done, and that’s win a championship,” Sneed said.

The Thunderbirds returned their top scorers — Sneed and Sancho.

Last season, Sneed was named District 27-6A’s co-MVP with Steele’s Sidney Love, the Express-News Player of the Year who is now at UTSA.

Sneed has built on that this season, leading the Thunderbirds in scoring (18.1 points), rebounding (6.8), assists (5.8) and steals (4.8).

Sneed’s strength is attacking the rim and kicking out to shooters. The Thunderbirds are not shy about taking 3-pointers.

Wagner has made 240 of 845 shots from beyond the arc. Sancho, who averages 14.9 points, has made 88 of 228 (38.6 percent) of her 3-point shots. Junior guard Aniya Bigley sank seven 3s in the Thunderbirds’ 65-42 win over Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial in Friday’s Region IV-5A semifinals.

“She attacks and leaves us with wide-open 3s,” Bigley said of Sneed. “Or she has her own way to get into the paint and score.”

Despite the move to 5A, Wagner coach Annissa Jackson did not let up on the scheduling. The Thunderbirds were 7-1 against Class 6A teams, including a 61-49 win over state No. 1 Clark, which is in the 6A state semifinals for a second straight season.

Wagner went 3-1 in the highly competitive Austin Bowie tournament and was 2-1 at the Mansfield tournament. The loss in Mansfield was to Colorado power Valor Christian (67-59).

The Thunderbirds also defeated two-time reigning 5A state champion Cedar Park twice, including in the first round of the playoffs.

“I’m just proud on how they’ve handled everything — coming into a new district, and our preseason was tough for a reason,” Jackson said. “We have to play tough teams, and I felt our preseason helped us get to this point.”

At No. 3, Wagner is the highest-ranked team remaining in the final regular-season Texas Association of Basketball Coaches 5A poll. Frisco Liberty was No. 17. The other semifinal pits No. 10 Fulshear (33-5) against No. 8 Lubbock Cooper (30-6).

The Thunderbirds are ready for anything.

“I feel like we’ve already played those types of teams before, so us playing them is nothing,” Sancho said. “This year, we dug deep, and we worked hard. We never stopped.”


Twitter: @hinojosa_david