It wasn’t a surprise.
When Ellison battled back and beat Belton 59-58 to earn a share of the District 8-6A title on Feb. 7, not many eyebrows were raised.
It was expected.
But it was an absolute battle this season in one of the best leagues in the state. The Lady Eagles finished tied with Killeen and Waco Midway for the district crown, and while many expected the 21st-ranked Lady Eagles to finish at the pinnacle of 8-6A when the season began, lost in it was how good they were — and are.
The expectations set forth with the long-tenured success of head coach Sherry McKinnon loomed large, but even she had never seen anything like it.
“We had some very good teams this year,” McKinnon said. “I say it’s a testament to how strong this district is. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night, and that’s just the way it ended up happening.
“We’re OK being tri-champions. I definitely wish that all four teams out of this district that go to the playoffs win.”
Now, Ellison (27-6) will turn the page and play DeSoto in the bi-district round today at 8 p.m. at West.
The Lady Eagles possess Virginia Commonwealth signee and 6-foot standout guard Madison Hattix-Covington, but there is much more to the Green and White than that.
Daija Planas, Marliah Johnson, Tacoya Allen, Amani Bradshaw, Sydney Brock, Naomi Whitfield, Aujunnae Smith, Cielo McClain, Feliziana Davis and La’Praisjah Johnson have all put their stamp on Ellison’s impressive season.
But the heartbeat of the team is senior point guard Gemma Alhambra.
“That’s my Gemma Sue,” McKinnon said. “That’s not her real name, but that’s what I call her. She’s just cool, calm and collected. She’s a general on the court, a true point guard.
“A true point guard is going to make sure everyone is involved in the offense, and then when it’s the right time, they’re going to attack the basket. I’m so very proud of her for coming out of her shyness and really believing in herself.
“She’s a special young lady.”
Regarding the season as a whole, Mc-Kinnon said Ellison’s success is a testament to each individual player, especially its five seniors.
“The senior girls have been a great part of the decision-making,” McKinnon said. “Just making goals together — team goals — and working together. I think they’re a great example to young people.
“They are mature young ladies. It’s been really nice just being able to tell them things and know they’re going to go out there and make it happen. It’s been a total joy to be able to coach them.”
The Lady Eagles have many aces up their sleeves, one of which is the 5-foot-9 McClain.
“When she’s on, she is really on,” McKinnon said. “Hopefully, she’s ready to get on fire and help us go deep into the playoffs.”
The same could be said for the 6-foot Smith.
“She’s a beast under the basket,” McKinnon said. “I’ve seen so much growth in her in regards to mental toughness. Watching her on the floor has been really fun.”
And McKinnon is no stranger to DeSoto.
“This will be, I believe, the fifth time I’ve played DeSoto,” McKinnon said. “I met them three times in the playoffs and once in a tournament, and we’re tied up at 2-2. I really believe it’s going to be a good game.”
CLASS 6A GIRLS BI-DISTRICT
- Ellison vs. DeSoto, 8 p.m. at West H.S.