McALLEN — The transition from middle school basketball to varsity basketball was night and day for PSJA High forward Kaylah Hernandez.
A freshman like Hernandez wasn’t looking to draw attention to herself or make waves with her older and more experienced teammates.
“When I began (the year), I would sit and watch them (older teammates) play. I wasn’t a starter,” Hernandez said. “I’d be like, ‘OK, if they put me in, I’m going to be ready. I’m going to focus and take everything slow.’ Well, it worked.”
In addition to capturing District 30-6A’s Newcomer of the Year honors, Hernandez was named as The Monitor’s 2018-19 All-Area Girls Basketball Newcomer of the Year. Hernandez averaged 10.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game for the Bears.
This season, Hernandez joined the team alongside senior mainstays Ashley Pecina (13.1 points) and Dee Galvan (7.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists).
“It took some time because I stayed with my little freshmen group at first,” Hernandez said. “Then we started getting closer and they helped me with a lot of what I needed to do. I was really blessed to have them as seniors. They’re going to help me this summer to become bigger and better next year.”
“When we put her in a game early on this season, the first thing I noticed about Kaylah is that she’s not afraid,” PSJA High coach Nelly Treviño said. “She’s doesn’t worry. She’s ready to go. When you have a kid like that, who is also super athletic and soaks up everything that you’re teaching, you know good things are going to happen for her. She didn’t start the first eight games, but when we able to work her in (the starting lineup), she hit it off with Dee (Galvan) and (Ashley) Pecina. They trusted her from the start and just ran with it. She’s the kind of kid a coach wants to have.”
The PSJA High program has gone through several facelifts over the past handful of seasons. The Bears had not made the playoffs since the 2015-16 season, when they finished in third place as a part of District 32-5A.
During that season, the Bears were coached by Stephanie Cantu, but she moved on to take the job at McAllen High, her alma mater. The loss of their head coach, coupled with move up to Class 6A, was a bad mix for PSJA High, which won a combined seven district games over the next two seasons.
In her second season on the job, Treviño helped the team make huge strides in 2018-19. The Bears won 27 games and qualified for their first postseason since Cantu’s final year as the No. 3 seed from District 30-6A.
“During that first year, it was hard because I remember when I was a player and how hard it was when you weren’t winning,” Treviño said. “Even though the record didn’t show it, I knew that we were heading in the right direction.”
Hernandez will be the top returning scorer from this season’s playoff team.
“It (playing in the playoffs) was really scary. I couldn’t believe it at first, but we had our minds set on making the playoffs,” Hernandez said. “I’ve been watching (LeBron) Bronny James Jr. highlights and other prodigies to see what they do. They inspire me to change what I can do and how I can do things better and stronger.”