A look back at the Lady Vikings varsity basketball team’s monumental season
The scoreboard clock ticked down to the final seconds, with the crowd on their feet waiting for the final buzzer.
When it sounded, L.G. Pinkston High School fans and alumni hugged, cried and celebrated what had been denied to the Lady Vikings basketball team in previous years: A victory that qualified them for the state tournament semi-finals.
In past seasons, the team suffered two consecutive playoff heartbreaks, handed to them by Melissa High School. This year, with hunger and determination, the team finally surpassed that barrier.
“It was deserving for our kids,” Lady Vikings head coach Nicolle Stovall says. “We’ve been working hard for it, so reaching this step was just emotional.”
The strong emotions after the game were partly because the Lady Vikings had been knocking on the door of the state championship since 2018, when they managed to win a playoff game for the first time ever.
Pinkston was the underdog. No odds were placed on this West Dallas team to make such a run and become one of the best four 4A teams in the state.
“So many people doubted us and didn’t think our kids have the talent or the caliber, so our drive was always to show people and show the Dallas-Fort Worth area what we’re all about,” Stovall says.
Pinkston’s pre-season began Nov. 6 with a series of friendly games before conference play. Like every other high school sports team this year, the pandemic was one of the most formidable opponents.
It’s not just the school’s athletic ability that has been questioned. At the beginning of the last decade, Pinkston was on the state’s list of failing schools for consecutive years. The school was warned that if the situation didn’t improve, it would be forced to close.
For a school that recently faced academic elimination, the success of reaching the final four in the state, being awarded seven football scholarships in 2021, and having multiple teams in district playoffs gives hope that the best is yet to come.
A game by game approach
Team captain and shooting guard Tamia Flores says COVID-19 was a struggle not only because of health issues but also from a mentality standpoint.
“We knew because of Covid that we had to stay extremely focused and not pay attention to what was happening outside,” Flores says. “We had to stay focused and play for each other, and that’s what we did.”
The pandemic affected the team’s preparation for the season and also the game schedule once they began playing regularly. Stovall says the team’s keyword this year was “flexibility.”
“It was a game by game situation,” Stovall says. “Sometimes we were on our way to a game and suddenly we had to cancel because players from the other team had Covid, so at any given time we were able to play, but sometimes we weren’t able to play.”
The Vikings opened their conference play with a strong 75-27 win against Carter High School on Jan. 2. The team finished conference play with a 76-6 win against Roosevelt High School, taking their conference record to 8-2 and clinching a spot in the playoff games for the state championship.
Though Lincoln High School took the district championship title, Pinkston defeated the team 69-64 during the regular season.
Stovall, who has coached the Lady Vikings for the last four years, approaches each season game by game.
“Our goal was to win the state championship, but we wanted to make sure that we go one game at a time and then look forward to the next game,” Stovall says. “We watched many games from our opponents to scatter them to see what our strengths and weaknesses were against them.”
Playoff games began mid-February for the Vikings and were a turning point, Stovall says, that boosted the team’s spirit toward better performances and results.
“What we did was that we laid out the format for each playoff game in order to get to state; we mapped the road that was gonna take us to the state championship game,” Stovall says.
The team recorded six straight wins during playoffs, matching their best record for consecutive wins in the season.
“The last two years we were kind of stagnant since we lost in the third round against the same team, but this year we made it three more rounds so it was definitely an elevation to our game,” Flores says.
Pinkston finished the season with a 26-7 overall mark — the best campaign in the school’s history.
“This was a year where we showcased the talent that we have at Pinkston,” Stovall says.
The motivation of ‘Viking nation’
Before the Lady Vikings boarded the bus for the state semi-finals, Pinkston hosted a pep rally to send them off. Alumni were there in force, even some from the original Pinkston class of 1965.
The high school opened in 1964 for Black students, seven years before the federal courts ordered Dallas ISD to desegregate in 1971. Named for L.G. Pinkston, one of few African-American doctors in Dallas’ early days, the school was built to serve the original West Dallas federal housing projects.
More than five decades later, the student body is 70% Latinx and 27% Black, according to DISD data. The team is a blend of both, including the biracial sisters who led the drive to the state semifinals, Tamia and Victoria Flores.
“I’ve talked to so many of these individuals who have said this has been the highlight of their life in regards to Pinkston,” Pinkston principal Marlon Brooks said at the pep rally.
Pinkston school spirit soared this year for students and alumni alike, but the road to the current sensation of pride has been a bumpy one.
“I think these are the sort of successes that set the stage to parlay and transform from good to great,” Brooks says later, reflecting on the Lady Vikings’ season. “I’m going to get caught up in the representation that they bring to the table of our school, the feeling that we can do the same thing as others no matter what the venture is.”
“Why not Pinkston?” became the team’s motto and rallying cry during the season. For years the school dealt with a reputation of inferiority, both academically and athletically. However, in the last couple of years the school has managed to overturn the situation.
“We knew we were the underdogs so we just had to prove ourselves to everyone,” Flores says. “No one thought about the things we could do, but we knew what we were capable of.”
The Lady Vikings’ special bond both off the court made them even better on the court, Stovall says.
“We’re talking about 12 young ladies who have tenacity, who take initiative and who fight through adversity to be successful,” Brooks says.
Aubrey Flores, the mother of senior Tamia and sophomore Victoria, who both were named to the 2020-21 all-state team, says the girls opted for extra practices and invested time and effort beyond what was required of them.
“Each of the players on this team, they had their little ‘superpowers,’ that’s what I call it,” Aubrey Flores says. “They knew what they needed to do, and that was important because Pinkston had never done anything like this.”
Pride of the west side
In the end, only two points kept the Lady Vikings from a state final championship. They narrowly lost to Canyon High School, a familiar name in state tournaments that went on to win its 20th state title.
Even the Canyon coach acknowledged that Pinkston almost bested his powerhouse team.
“They’re so physical and athletic and quick, and they can take you out of your offense if you let them,” Canyon coach Tate Lombard told the San Angelo Standard-Times following the game.
The respect paid to Pinkston after their season performance was affirming to Stovall, who chafes at the general disrespect people have toward urban schools making it deep into the playoffs or even winning a state championship. She knows this from first-hand experience as a standout high school player from New Orleans’ Seventh Ward.
One of the most surprising things about this Pinkston team is that it is relatively young. Tamia Flores is the only senior on the varsity team; the rest are juniors, sophomores and freshmen. Victoria Flores was named the district 4A offensive MVP as a sophomore, after averaging 16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 6 steals per game.
Those stats contribute to Pinkston’s above-average standing in national offensive statistics, with 54.3 points, 26.4 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 18.3 steals in the regular season.
“I would rank this group of girls as the best that I have coached in my time at Pinkston,” Stovall says.
With almost every player returning next season, hopes are high that this could be the team to clinch the Vikings’ first-ever state title.
The girls said it themselves: “Why not Pinkston?”