Class 6A No. 11 Ellison put the finishing touches on this week as it will face No. 10 Waco Midway in the District 8-6A opener tongith at 7 p.m.
Last season, the Lady Eagles were knocked out of the first round of the playoffs after going 27-7 overall and 12-2 in district play.
“Last year, we ended up having a three-way tie for the district championship,” Ellison head coach Sherry McKinnon said, “and nobody wants to share a championship trophy.”
Which is why this year, the girls of Ellison have set their sights on being first seed in the district.
“We don’t want to be repeat three-way district champions,” senior forward and four-year varsity member Aujunnae Smith said. “We want the title for ourselves.”
The road to that goal begins tonight in Waco, where the Lady Eagles lost in the second round of district play the last time they met the Pantherettes at home after taking the victory in Killeen the first time they faced off.
The other loss was against crosstown rival Killeen on the Lady Roos’ home court, also in the second round.
While the Lady Eagles enjoy playing at home, excited to share the details of their preshow put on for their starters, McKinnon notices that at this point in the season, “I think we’re playing better away, I don’t know why that is.”
Her players seem to have an explanation: There’s an extra sense of drive when playing on someone else’s court.
“We feel as though we’re here, we’re making a statement,” Smith said.
That statement is one of taking a victory in front of an opposing crowd.
But the Lady Eagles are a family and, like most mother’s do, McKinnon keeps the girls grounded, reminding them, “Any night, anybody can be beaten.
“Every night, every team we face is a threat.”
Senior forward and four-year varsity member Cielo McClain, along with senior guard Dajia Planas and Smith echo the sentiment that no team can be taken for granted in district.
Many consider Ellison to be rebuilding this year as half the team graduated in May and six new girls have been called up to varsity.
“We plan on growing our success,” McClain said, “with hard work, pushing ourselves, staying together as a team and coming together with a good fight.
“We would like to polish our defense first so it can incorporate an offense.”
One way the experienced varsity Lady Eagles plan to build their success is by helping their new varsity members grow.
“We challenge them to do what we do,” McClain said, “or push them in a different way so that they can do what we’re doing just as good, if not better.”
Although they currently stand 9-5 on the season and are coming off a loss against Katy in the Conoco-Phillip 66 Tournament, McKinnon believes that the past 14 games helped shape her team to face district competition.
“Many of them are in their first year of varsity experience,” she said.”But now I feel like they know what their roles and strengths are and what they need to do to help this team be successful in the end.”
Midway comes into the matchup 13-2 and are coming off a win against Pflugerville, which Ellison lost to early this season in a nondistcit game.
Still, that doesn’t shake the Lady Eagles’ confidence in themselves or their trust in one another heading into district play.
Ellison will head to Copperas Cove to play the Lady Bulldawgs on Dec. 19 before heading into the winter break.
They will start the new year at Killeen on Jan. 9 and head to Belton on Jan. 12 before returning home to paly Midway again in late January and Killen and Belton once more in early February.
“What’s done in the dark comes out in the light,” McClain said, reminding teams that you shouldn’t underestimate the Lady Eagles because of where they currently stand because they’re always working to prove themselves on the court.
“We’re all here to work and play hard and go after it,” Planas said, warning their district foes. “We hope they do the same so we have good competition throughout the season.
“Good luck to everyone out there and I hope they have a good season and everything, but however it falls, it falls.”