La Vega girls basketball coach Jeff Jefferson will flatly admit it. He’s looking forward to playing someone else other than the China Springs, Lorenas and Gatesvilles of the world.
It’s the way it goes in the high school basketball playoffs. District rivals tussle and tangle for two months, then they turn into one another’s loudest cheerleaders.
“We played China and Lorena so many times that they know us like a book,” said Jefferson, whose Lady Pirates played China Spring three times this year, including a 60-55 overtime win in a district tiebreaker game on Friday. “So it’s going to be fun to play somebody else for a while. … But you enjoy seeing your district do well. Then the other night, we had our all-district meeting, so we bond there a little bit. Then in district we battle it out.”
Like many of its rivals, La Vega will begin its postseason journey this week when the UIL girls basketball playoffs get rolling. The Lady Pirates are targeting a fourth straight trip to the state tournament, but it’s a far different team than recent incarnations. Calveion “Juicy” Landrum, one of the driving catalysts of those previous state squads, has moved on to Baylor. Now it’s Ta’Naiya Norwood’s team, and the junior post certainly can be a dynamic force on both ends of the court.
But if the Lady Pirates, who finished tied for second in District 17-4A, are going to return to San Antonio, they must forge the under-the-radar path rather than the favorite’s fast track.
“I talked to Shekenia (Green), Ta’Naiya and Haley Howard, the upperclassmen, and they feel like if we put it all together we could surprise some people,” Jefferson said. “I told them, why not? We’re going to give it our best shot.”
Other Central Texas teams capable of stretching their playoff run over the next couple of weeks include:
Perhaps surprisingly, it had been seven years since the tradition-rich Pantherettes had claimed a district championship banner prior to this season. But Midway (28-5) captured a share of the 8-6A crown, tying for the league title with Killeen and Killeen Ellison with a 12-2 district record.
First-year coach Ben Holder presides over one of the best scoring teams in the area, a team that averages 58 points per game. Midway boasts a variety of different scoring options, led by senior forward Barbara Benson and junior point guard Ja’Naiya Davis. But Midway will have to fight through a stacked Region I field to try to get to state, headed up by No. 1-ranked Duncanville.
The Lady Hornets (30-3) don’t always obliterate their opponents, but they don’t generally beat themselves. Hence the reason they lost only three times in the regular season, and even in those defeats they were in the game, as they came by a total of 19 points. (Interestingly enough, Gatesville also has at least one win over each of the teams it lost to – Glen Rose, China Spring and La Vega).
A pair of juniors, guard Rebekah Nolte and forward Allaria Jones, must make lots of noise if the Hornets are going to create a buzz and make a run.
If you’re an opposing guard bringing the ball up against the Lady Bulldogs, you’d better watch your back. New York muggers aren’t this adept at picking your pocket.
Marlin averages 20 steals per game, which ranks 61st nationally in MaxPreps’ rankings. And the Lady Bulldogs excel at turning that thievery into basket weaving – with two of the top scorers in Central Texas in guards Mystique Womack (27.2 ppg) and Dynesha Bailey (18.5).
The Lady Lions are another team that give opponents fits defensively. Guards Ashley and KaDaja Nickelberry and Zytaria Herod employ their quickness effectively, slicing into passing lanes and coming up with a bevy of steals and loose balls.
Also, Teague can rely on an upperclassman-heavy squad, with 10 juniors and seniors on the roster.
With standout players like Keauna Whitfield and Rebecca Bennett back from last year’s regional semifinalist club, the Lady Cougars (24-9) figure to be a tough out in the playoffs again. They’ll open the playoffs Monday against Hubbard, a foe they’ve beaten twice already this season.
Crawford’s around-the-world athletic success is evident on the basketball court, too. The Lady Pirates tested themselves with some tough higher-classification opponents in non-district play, like West and McGregor. Then they established themselves as the class of District 17-2A, pulling out a pair of wins over Rosebud-Lott en route to the district title.
While Crawford is no stranger to deep playoff runs, it must start better out of the gate than last year, when it dropped a one-point game to Riesel in the bi-district round.