By KEVIN THOMPSON

sports@gctelegram.com

In her five seasons at the helm of the Lady Longhorns, Kelley Snodgrass' teams have come a long way.

This year they were near the top of the class among state 3A teams, and they were one double-overtime loss away from playing for a state tournament berth.

At 18-4, it was a pretty sweet season by any standards, but that fourth loss was hard to swallow, she said. Overall, though, it just showed how badly her girls had worked toward their goals.

As a result, Snodgrass was selected as The Telegram's 2011 All-Area Girls Coach of the Year.

"It was a great season," Snodgrass said. "The girls fought hard. We played tough competition, and that only made us get better."

All season long, she said, the team's motto was "One team, one goal," and everything they worked on was toward qualifying for state. Even in falling just short of that end, the effort reflected the team's work ethic.

While losing a double overtime game was deflating, she said the team effort was there. Her girls showed fight for an entire game necessary to compete at that level, the "never give up" attitude they had practiced all season.

"The fight was what I had been waiting for from these girls for the last four years. I was very proud of their efforts," she said.

Getting to that level to play against the best didn't just happen, Snodgrass said. It was the culmination of dedicated off-season effort.

"We probably played close to 40 games this past summer," Snodgrass said. "The girls really bought into the system. They worked hard, and I think that's where our success has come over the last two years is how hard they worked in the off season."

Illness and injury were the nemesis of the Longhorns throughout the season, obstacles that would fetter most teams, but her girls showed fight and resiliency in playing through all that, the Lady Longhorn coach said.

"It was just constant," she said of girls missing games for unforeseen reasons. "But that just shows how good we were because somebody else stepped up. Every night somebody had someone else's back. We had girls playing different positions, but that's good for them to know how to play everywhere."

Snodgrass doesn't see herself as an intense coach, but she is a competitor who hates to lose. That attitude reflects onto her players.

"A lot of times they see that competitiveness. They feed off of that," she explained. She tries to make sure they don't let emotions take over.

"I tell the girls that we have to control the 'controllables' and do what we can do," she said. That means taking charge on defense and winning the rebound game.

Holcomb is now 67-42 in the past five seasons under Snodgrass, including 34-9 the past two years.

Each of her five seasons, Snodgrass said, she has developed her program based on personnel.

"You have to develop year to year. You adjust to your strengths and weaknesses," she said. "When you get this senior group who have been in my system for four years, they just get more and more familiar with it."

This year's team started with six seniors, including Breanna Gottschalk and Amy Stegman, who started for Holcomb all four years.

Senior leadership was a key to this successful season.

"It went from practice to the games," Snodgrass said. "They never took a shortcut in practice. They always worked very hard. They always pushed one another."

Losing so many seniors means losing some good leadership, but many sophomores saw quality playing time in big games, so that will help next season, including key ball handlers and some post players.

That system is becoming more part of the middle school now, she said, so she sees the consistency coming up through the lower grades. The system is already in place, and players know what to expect and how to perform.