After losing Class of 2013 District 8-5A co-MVP Kenesha Saygo, and starters Deja Pointer and Kaitlyn Shearer, Ellison faces an uphill climb in its quest to repeat as District 8-5A champion.
Leadership responsibilities rest on the shoulders of players like senior guard Francesca Patrick and junior guard/forward Jordanna Porter.
“First, we’re going to have to stay humble and work together as a team, because you know, we lost a lot of seniors last year,” Patrick said. “I have to be strong on the defensive end, as well as offense now, facilitating, getting the team involved, getting everybody working together and pretty much leading the team.”
The Lady Eagles finished with a 13-1 record in district play last year, before falling to Flower Mound Marcus in the area finals.
Many district teams carry a burden similar to Ellison’s, as new blood will appear on several courts across Central Texas.
Last year, the Lady Roos posted an 8-6 district record and were bi-district finalists. Killeen lost four starters after last season, including district co-MVP Jasmine Goodwine, Esha Atkins, Johlicia Williams and LaDerrica Degrate.
Sophomore guard Tia Harston is Killeen’s sole returning starter.
“I’ve got to be the playmaker, the scorer, make plays: A leader, basically,” she said. “I’m trying to start something new, stuff that we haven’t done in the past seasons in the beginning of the year. ... I would like to give to my team, whether it be gifts or get-togethers, stuff like that. Positive stuff that we can all gain from.”
Senior center Tyesha Taylor and guard Jazzmen Ortiz will blaze new trails for Temple after the Tem-Cats lost starters Ketara Chapel, Rykeka Johnson and Alyssa Jones last season.
“If we work hard, we’re definitely going to make it to district,” Taylor said.
Coach Tamarah Sanders hopes to build upon last year, in which the Tem-Cats posted an 11-3 district record, tied with Copperas Cove for second place and advanced to a bi-district game.
“We’re probably the underdogs right now,” Ortiz said. “(To win district, we must give) hard work on and off the court, just being a team, communicating, having that bond as a team and just not being overly confident, but not bringing ourselves down.”
The Lady Knights are another district underdog, following last year’s 3-11 district campaign and losing district co-offensive player of the year JaQuan Jackson.
But Harker Heights coach Shirretha Nelson has help from senior Sam Houston State commit Angela Delaney, whom she has designated as a second coach.
“I’m the coach on the floor, she’s the coach on the stands and in practice,” Delaney said. “As a senior, I feel like I should be a leader, always have my team upbeat, positive, make sure we go hard, just be the second coach as my coach. I have to keep my teammates up. If they mess up or they get down on themselves, I’m the one to pick them up.”
BELTON LADY TIGERS
Last season: 7-21, 3-11 8-5A
Outlook: Coach Brenda Gomez acknowledged this season would be difficult, but hopes her girls’ hard work pays off. Belton has a new brood this year, as senior Emily Hugo is her team’s only returning starter. The Lady Tigers finished last in the district standings last year. Hugo is dealing with a torn ACL, and while her return status is uncertain, Gomez hopes she will hit the court in December.
COPPERAS COVE LADY BULLDAWGS
Last season: 20-14, 11-3 8-5A (bi-district finalist)
Outlook: Last year, Copperas Cove returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2009, finishing second in its District 8-5A debut. This season’s team, however, is much different than it was one year ago. After just two seasons as head coach, Teresa Durham stepped down during the offseason, making room for Eldridge McAdams to become the Lady Bulldawgs’ third head coach in five seasons. Additionally, the team’s leading scorer and the district’s offensive MVP, Shawnte Goff, graduated along with several other key contributors. The team returns a number of players, including point guard Mikayla Blount and post Bryaunea Hall, who could miss a significant amount of time should Copperas Cove’s volleyball team make a deep playoff run.
ELLISON LADY EAGLES
Last season: 32-4, 13-1 8-5A (area finalist)
Outlook: A year after a senior-laden team returned Ellison to district-champion status, the Lady Eagles return a significantly younger team, but one that defending 8-5A Coach of the Year Sherry McKinnon doesn’t believe is rebuilding. Senior Francesca Patrick and junior Jordanna Porter return to the starting lineup after earning All-District honors in 2012. Sophomores Naomi Burnette and Arriyanna Forch will join them as starters at the post positions after contributing as freshmen at the end of last season. McKinnon said her team won’t be as big as it has been in the past, with no 6-footers on the roster, and that the Eagles will push the ball and press even more as a result. Players like freshman Madison Hattix-Covington, who McKinnon called “the real deal,” also figure to ease the transition. McKinnon said she expects growing pains early on, but hopes to be competing for the district title again.
FLORENCE LADY BUFFS
Last season: 13-15, 3-11 22-2A
Outlook: For the Florence Lady Buffs, the early portion of the 2013-14 season will be one of transition as the team tries to work a lot of new faces back to varsity play. Florence returns only one starter, but coach Drake Stanczak said the goal for the season is always making the postseason. Florence must look to replace all-district first-teamer Chelsey Langsford, but will have post Rebecca Horton back after the middle blocker took a break from the basketball court as a junior to focus on volleyball.
GATESVILLE LADY HORNETS
Last season: 12-18, 3-7 8-3A
Outlook: Top 3-point shooter Sarah Ridling, top defender Paige Chambers and starter Raven Massey all graduated last year, leaving three new starters to fill in. The Lady Hornets will face at least one definite obstacle this season, as senior point guard Sarah Latham isn’t expected to return from a torn ACL until the district leg of the schedule. Senior guard/forward Meghan Haferkamp is also recovering after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Senior guard Randi Farney, junior forward Brianna Poe and junior center Kayla McGibboney round out this year’s starting five. “I think we struggled a little bit last year,” said Gatesville coach Chris Carroll. “We weren’t quite as successful as we had been in the past, but we’re thinking and hoping at this point that maybe this year will be a little bit improved, and time will tell. But hopefully, we think, we’re on a rebound this year.”
HARKER HEIGHTS LADY KNIGHTS
Last season: 11-19, 3-11 8-5A
Outlook: After a disappointing 2012 season ravaged by injuries, Heights hopes to return to the postseason with a young team. Sam Houston State commit Angela Delany will lead the way and can play any position on the floor. Junior Alexis Dukes was an all-district performer along with Delaney last year, and coach Shirretha Nelson said the two are interchangeable point guards. Having both will help ease the loss of 8-5A co-Offensive Player of the Year JaQuan Jackson, now at Louisiana Tech. Nelson also said she has high hopes for senior Jada Evans, a returning starter in her guard-heavy offense. Nelson is looking for Evans to put more points on the board this season as Heights looks to improve on its disappointing district finish in 2012. The district remains deep, but Nelson said she likes where her team is after the first scrimmage.
KILLEEN LADY KANGAROOS
Last season: 18-13, 8-6 8-5A (bi-district finalist)
Outlook: The Lady Kangaroos come into this season with 18 players listed on their roster, but only four returning players from last season. Early season games will be key to helping Killeen mesh well. The core of the team is young as the Lady Roos only have three seniors on their team and will likely put three freshmen on the varsity squad to go along with four sophomores and three juniors. Killeen also looks to fill the void left by leading scorer Jasmine Goodwine who graduated last season after averaging 19 points per game. Killeen coach Latisha Williams said without Goodwine, the Lady Roos will be a very different looking team.
LAMPASAS LADY BADGERS
Last season: 7-23, 3-7 8-3A
Outlook: Lampasas has not been to the playoffs since 2001 — a year after Lampasas native and current head coach Jenny Bowden graduated. Entering her third year overseeing the program, however, Bowden intends to guide the Lady Badgers back to the postseason. Lampasas returns six players, but lost four key contributors to graduation, including the team’s lone all-district first-team member, Julie Mize.The Lady Badgers will be extremely young this season, but their youth could prove useful in the long term as the players will have time to grow together and potentially become the cohesive power Bowden envisions.
LOMETA LADY HORNETS
Last season: 14-12, 6-2 District 28-1A, Div. II (area finalist)
Outlook: Lometa finished second in district last season under first-year head coach Marcus Chapa, but the Lady Hornets’ impressive season came to an early end in the playoffs. With a year of playing under Chapa, the brief encounter with success could prove invaluable as Lometa’s program looks to turn a corner from years of mediocrity. In addition to the momentum gained by earning their first playoff victory in 26 years, the Lady Hornets bring the defending district offensive MVP into the new season. Mikhaila Barnett will be expected to carry the offensive load once again, but two other returning starters will attempt to help compensate for five players lost to graduation.
SALADO LADY EAGLES
Last season: 16-15, 9-5 22-2A (bi-district finalist)
Outlook: Salado loses just one player from a playoff team in 2012, and coach Diane Konarick has high expectations for the Lady Eagles this season. Konarik said the rest of the district will be young, and while her team returns essentially all of its talent, the same applies to the Lady Eagles. Senior Ashley Adams is expected to lead the way after earning first-team all-district honors as a junior. Adams has been to state in cross country and track and field and will lead an athletic team that will look to run the floor. Fellow senior Jayle Sebek returns in the post after making the all-district second team in 2012. Junior Taylor Atwood and senior Taryn Kornegay were honorable mentions on the all-district team last year as well. With a veteran team, Salado hopes to make a run at a district title and go deeper in the playoffs after a first-round exit last season.
SHOEMAKER LADY WOLVES
Last season: 10-20, 4-10 8-5A
Outlook: Shoemaker coach Lori Shead said the numbers are on her side for her second season at Shoemaker. The girls hoops team had 48 girls try out for the 12 available varsity spots. Shoemaker looks to replace Ashley Ousley, who graduated last season and made the District 8-5A all-district second team. The Lady Wolves have three returning starters and seven seniors on the roster coming into the season and Shead said that the chemistry developed from another season together will be a big factor for the team this season. The coach added that the Lady Wolves now have the confidence to walk into a gym and know they can win.
Last season: 24-8, 10-3 8-5A, (bi-district finalist)
Outlook: Temple graduated three starters last year, but returns two District 8-5A leaders in 5-foot-5 guard Jazzmen Ortiz and 6-foot-3 center Tyesha Taylor, both seniors. The Tem-Cats finished ranked 26th in Texas 5A in 2012, losing 57-48 in the first round of the playoffs. Temple allowed only 513 points last year against district opponents, surrendering a district low 39.5 points per game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ashley Adams, Salado
Adams is a phenomenal athlete, having qualified for state in cross country and track and field, and is a key contributor at shooting guard for Salado. Adams also exemplifies the Lady Eagles’ athleticism and ability to run in the open floor. After becoming a first-team all-district selection as a junior, Adams will be expected to lead a squad looking for a district title.
Mikhaila Barnett, Lometa
The point guard made a huge impact as a sophomore, averaging 16 points per game en route to winning the district’s offensive most valuable player award. Now, as a junior, even more will be expected from Barnett, who, in addition to helping Lometa reach the playoffs, experienced success in track and field, finishing third in the high jump at the state meet.
Mikayla Blount, Copperas Cove
An all-district first-team member as a sophomore, Blount played beyond her years, leading the team in free-throw percentage (74%, 62 of 84), blocks (41), and ranked second in rebounds (6.2 per game) and steals (1.4 per game), while averaging 7.3 points and 1.4 assists per game.
Clarissa Carranco, Florence
As one of only four varsity returners, Carranco will have more responsibilities this season. Coach Drake Stanczak said that although she starts as a wing player, the sophomore has the versatility to play in the post and also be a point guard.
Angela Delaney, Harker Heights
Delaney can do it all for the Lady Knights, but coach Shirretha Nelson said the goal is for Delaney to play primarily in the backcourt the way she will at Sam Houston State. But the senior will still be used as needed, as Nelson said Delaney is also the Lady Knights’ best post defender. Delaney was one of Heights’ top rebounders last season as well. She will likely also be counted on heavily for points with do-everything guard JaQuan Jackson gone after graduation. But Delaney is certainly up to the task and will need to be for the Lady Knights to reach to the postseason.
Alexis Dukes, Harker Heights
Dukes earned all-district second-team honors as a sophomore and will be relied upon even more this season. Injuries gave Dukes an unexpected boost in playing time last season, and now the junior is expected to reap the benefits. Heights coach Shirretha Nelson called Dukes a “key component” and said she and fellow guard Angela Delaney have developed a bit of a chemistry after last season. Nelson often plays four or five guards in her lineups, but none may be as important as Dukes and her cohort Delaney.
Bryaunea Hall, Copperas Cove
Standing 6-foot-1, the starting post was an all-district first-team selection as a junior, averaging 7.3 points and 6.9 rebounds while ranking second on the team in blocks with 41. With first-year head coach Eldridge McAdams emphasizing defense, the senior seems like a logical person to build around.
Tia Harston, Killeen
The only Killeen returning starter made an impression last season, averaging eight points and 2.3 steals. A season ago, Harston played small forward and point guard, but in 2013-14, the sophomore will serve as the floor general from the point guard position more often. Coach Latisha Williams said Harston’s leadership will be key this season since most of Killeen’s team has yet to play at the varsity level.
Jonette Jackson, Shoemaker
The Lady Wolves look for the senior post to be the second part of their inside-outside punch this year. Coach Lori Shead said she was excited about the Lady Wolves’ presence in the paint this season. Jackson is one of four girls on the roster that are 5-foot-10 or taller. As a junior in 2012-13, Jackson was all-district honorable mention.
Taryn Kornegay, Salado
Kornegay moves from point guard to small forward for the Lady Eagles, where she’ll be expected to contribute heavily on both ends of the floor. But Kornegay is up to the challenge, as Salado coach Diane Konarik said the senior is one of her better rebounders and outside shooters. Kornegay figures to be key if the Lady Eagles make the leap they’re hoping for in 2013.
Ashley Lemons, Shoemaker
The senior point guard had a comeback season last year in her first full campaign since suffering an ACL injury. As a junior, Lemons was an all-district honorable mention and Shead looks for the 5-foot-4 senior to run the offense and said her guards will be more dominant this season.
Jazzmen Ortiz, Temple
Ortiz was named second-team all-district last season as a sophomore when she scored 8.7 points, notched 2.1 steals and grabbed 3.5 rebounds per game.
Francesca Patrick, Ellison
Patrick was a first-team all-district selection in District 8-5A last season and named the Defensive Player of the Year by the Ellison coaching staff. With 2012 8-5A co-MVP Kenesha Saygo now playing at Texas Woman’s University, Patrick will move to the point guard position as coach Sherry McKinnon hands her the keys to the Lady Eagle offense. Patrick will also be expected to lead a young team as one of just two seniors on the roster. She and junior Jordanna Porter are the two biggest contributors remaining from the Lady Eagles’ district championship team last season.
Jordanna Porter, Ellison
Porter was a second-team selection on the 8-5A All-District team last season, and will see her role increase this season with six seniors gone from the lineup. Porter also finds herself in new territory as the tallest player on the Ellison roster at 5-foot-10. Despite not being a senior, Porter will also be expected to lead due to her varsity experience, as she was named co-captain.
Raven Ringo, Killeen
An injury filled sophomore season kept the post from putting up bigger numbers last season, but she looks for a big year as a junior. Last year she averaged three points and 1.5 rebounds per game. Williams said Ringo shoots the ball well, is very aggressive and competitive.
Shali Simpson, Florence
Simpson’s ball handling skills and ability to see the floor helped her distribute the ball to other players last season. Simpson earned second-team all-district honors a year ago, but will have to step up and be a scorer this year and will have more shots created for her this season.
Tyesha Taylor, Temple
Taylor returns after being named District 8-5A defensive player of the year, when she averaged 8.5 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 15.3 points per game.
GAMES TO WATCH
- Irving MacArthur at Shoemaker, Nov. 15: The Lady Wolves will have a big early test against one of North Texas’ most successful programs in MacArthur, which enters the season as the 10th-ranked team in the Texas Associated of Basketball Coaches preseason poll. MacArthur looks to get back on top of District 6-5A after having a 42-game district win streak snapped last season, finishing third in district and losing in the bi-district playoffs.
- Lago Vista at Florence, Nov. 15: After two games together, the inexperienced Lady Buffs will have their first real test of the season against Lago Vista, the District 27-2A champ and regional quarterfinalist last season.
- New Braunfels Canyon Tournament, Dec. 6 and 7: For coach Latisha Williams, this tournament offers the Lady Roos a chance to test their skills against some of the best squads in the San Antonio area. Williams said that although there isn’t a game that she can point to as a measuring stick, she said that this tournament will allow the Lady Roos to compete against fast paced teams, half court offenses and different styles.
- Harker Heights at Belton, Dec. 10: The last and second-to-last district teams from last year compete in their first 2013-14 district game. A win in this game could set the tone for a much-improved season.
- Little River-Academy at Florence, Dec. 10: Florence kicks off district play with one of the most experienced teams in District 22-2A. FHS coach Drake Stanczak said Academy is the only team in the district without a lot of youth. A win or good performance at home could give the Lady Buffs some momentum the rest of the first half of district play.
- Ellison at Harker Heights, Dec. 17: Ellison swept Heights last year with double-digit wins in both games. Heights is looking to return to the playoffs this season and the defending district champion will offer a good measuring stick early in the district season.
- Ellison at Temple, Dec. 20: This is the first meeting with one of the four teams to defeat the Lady Eagles last season. Ellison had won 12 straight before losing to Temple at home in 2012. The Lady Eagles responded with a 24-point win in the rematch and ought to be similarly motivated for the first meeting in 2013.
- Copperas Cove at Ellison, Jan. 3: The Lady Eagles were the only team to sweep the Lady Bulldawgs during district play last season, giving Copperas Cove an added source of motivation in the longtime rivalry. This is also the Lady Eagles’ first game after the notoriously tough Sandra Meadows Tournament in Duncanville and will be a fine district test.
- Gatesville at Lampasas, Jan. 3: The Lady Badgers are looking to snap a 13-year playoff drought, and to do so, they must win games in district. The 8-3A opener should be a good measuring stick for Lampasas’ potential.
- Little River-Academy at Salado, Jan. 7: Academy is a perennial power in the Lady Eagles’ district, and Salado is hoping to make its imprint at the top of the district this season.
- Ellison at Killeen, Jan. 7: The crosstown rivalry between Killeen’s two oldest schools will be a big game for the Lady Roos. This will be the second game of the calendar year for Killeen and a home win over the Lady Eagles could be a big deal later on for playoff seeding or a chance to get in.
- Copperas Cove at Harker Heights, Jan. 10: Cove handed Heights a humbling 77-45 defeat to end the Lady Knights’ disappointing season last year. Heights certainly hasn’t forgotten that game and will be looking for revenge at home.
- Evant at Lometa, Jan. 14: The Lady Elks have what the Lady Hornets desperately want — a district title. The defending champions were undefeated in district last year and are the frontrunners in this year’s race as well.
- Liberty Hill at Gatesville, Jan. 17: Expected to be fully healthy at this point after senior point guard Sarah Latham’s prospective return from a torn ACL, Gatesville will face a big test against last year’s District 8-3A champion.
- Jarrell at Salado, Jan. 28: Jarrell ran the district table last season, and Salado now wants the crown. If the Lady Eagles are to have a legitimate shot, then this late-season game will be key.
- Waco Midway at Shoemaker, Jan. 28: Despite graduating eight players from a team that only won four district games last season, SHS coach Lori Shead said Midway could have a big season. Shead said the sub-varsity teams from Midway were talented last season and those players are now going to join the established players from last season.
Staff writers Brian Bradley, Albert Alvarado, Jordan Mason and Clay Whittington contributed to this report.