Limping into the playoffs last season, Ellison was barely able to stand after a bi-district beating against perennial state power DeSoto.
Then-No. 10 DeSoto brutalized Ellison with a blitzkrieg defense to the tune of 38 turnovers, 18 via steals, during a 43-22 ransacking in their opening round game a year ago. Making matters worse, Ellison experienced its worst shooting performance of the season, finishing 9-of-52 (17 percent) from the field.
“We definitely got out-played, out-muscled, and a lot of things DeSoto did rattled us and pushed us around,” McKinnon said. “(After that) I definitely had to go in and check what I was doing as the head coach and we made a lot of changes in the offseason (with regard) to getting stronger.”
And that’s just what Ellison did. With that DeSoto loss in mind, the Lady Eagles promoted a heavier focus on a more aggressive pressure defense this season, even to the point of introducing an all-boys practice squad to create a more physical approach during the last four weeks of practice.
“We needed the physicality and physicalness ... so for us to practice to be aggressive, we needed aggressive people,” McKinnon said. “The boys don’t have any mercy on us, ... (and) the girls want to show them up and prove that they could play.”
No. 11 Ellison (31-3, 13-1 8-5A), winners of 15 straight, will get its chance to prove themselves in their bi-district playoff game Tuesday against No. 13 DeSoto Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Waco University High School.
“One of the things we look forward to, and one of the things we talk about, ... is redeeming ourself,” McKinnon said. “We don’t want to pay anybody back, because that doesn’t get you anywhere. But when you talk about redeeming yourself, you’re going in and playing better, making better choices on the court. So we’re excited about it.”
DeSoto (25-8, 9-5 7-5A) is the fourth seed out of District 7-5A after losing a coin flip with third-place Cedar Hill (24-10, 9-5 7-5A), which plays Copperas Cove (24-9, 11-3 8-5A) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at West High School.
Fourth-seeded Killeen (18-13, 8-6 8-5A) has probably the toughest bi-district matchup in the entire state going up against No. 1-ranked Duncanville (35-0, 14-0 7-5A), which won the Class 5A state title 69-31 over Spring DeKaney last season, at 7 p.m. Monday at West.
Temple (26-8, 11-3 8-5A), which won its first 11 straight in 8-5A but has since dropped three straight and then lost a coin flip with Copperas Cove, enters as the district’s third seed versus No. 14 Mansfield Timberview (27-6, 11-4 7-5A) at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Corsicana High.
The Lady Bulldawgs enter their first postseason since 2010 but comes in as the second-hottest team coming out of 8-5A, having won seven of their last eight. Cove’s luck continued to pay tidings in the coin toss with Temple for the second seed, giving second-year head coach Teresa Durham hope that can carry over into the playoffs.
“It’s nice having that momentum behind you,” Durham said. “It just gives them a great sense of confidence.”