Tonight has the making of a special ballgame.
Seventh-ranked Ellison and Killeen, ranked No. 10 in the Texas Girls Coaches Association (TGCA) poll, have unblemished District 8-6A records and will square off at 7 at Ellison High School.
The Lady Eagles (20-4, 5-0 8-6A) have won 12 of their last 13, and the Lady Kangaroos (17-8, 5-0) are currently on a 12-game winning streak after beginning the season 5-8.
Both teams, along with TGCA No. 14-ranked Waco Midway, were preseason favorites to vie for a league title. Ellison and Killeen have already earned road wins over the Pantherettes (20-5, 3-2), and now the two will battle for sole possession of 8-6A’s top spot.
Lady Eagles head coach Sherry McKinnon said it will be a fun atmosphere tonight.
“It’s going to be exciting for the players, us coaches and I feel like for the community,” McKinnon said. “I think it’s going to be a big rivalry game with both teams being 5-0. That’s really exciting.”
Lady Kangaroos head coach Jennifer Graham said all the talk of who is currently the better team will finally be decided on the court.
“Ultimately, it is a battle of the undefeated in district play,” Graham said. “It’s going to be an intense game, it’s going to be an aggressive game and it’s going to be an emotional game. But each girl from each team has to show up and play basketball.
“Let the best team win.”
Six-foot-tall senior Madison Hattix-Covington has been a big offensive presence for Ellison. But seniors Gemma Alhambra and La’Praisjah Johnson have helped alleviate the pressure on the Virginia Commonwealth commit.
“Gemma is a true point guard,” McKinnon said. “She knows how to facilitate and knows how to keep everything in order, and she’s our peacekeeper, too. To have her playing the position she is comfortable in and is truly blessed at, we are blessed to have her on our team.
“La’Praisjah can score at will. She can attack, and I don’t think anybody can stop La’Praisjah but La’Praisjah. She brings so much to the table.”
Junior Cielo McClain, senior Feliziana Davis and junior Aujunnae Smith, among others, have solidified their specific roles to help the Lady Eagles be regarded as one of the best in the state.
Senior Shianne Johnson, a Weber State signee, has continued to lead Killeen in scoring. But fellow senior Alexus Scharkley and sophomore Meleanna Williams have entrenched themselves as its defensive enforcers on the perimeter.
“That ball, they believe its their ball,” Graham said of Scharkley and Williams. “Whoever has that ball in their hand and is in front of them, that is their ball. They know if they get beat on anything, if someone blows past them, it will not happen again.
“They get insulted when they can’t stop a person. That type of mentality helps out, because it alleviates the possible threat of fouls for our post players.”
The aggressiveness of Scharkley and Williams has allowed the Lady Kangaroos’ post players, such as senior Jacen Moore and junior Manesha Knox, to be even more tenacious around the basket.
Sophomore Cierra Penn has added another dimension for Killeen at forward, and junior Jaida Burks has developed into another scoring threat to aid the Lady Kangaroos in their winning streak.
Despite the anticipation of tonight’s tilt between two old-school rivals, however, McKinnon knows there is still a long way to go afterward.
“We were talking as a coaching staff, and we have to let the kids know it’s just another district ballgame,” McKinnon said. “We want it and they want it, but at the end of the night it’s just a district ballgame. We’re hoping that we’re going to be 6-0 and they’re going to be 5-1, but you’re going to have to meet up with each other another time, too.”
“The team that wins is going to be 6-0, and the team that loses is going to be 5-1,” Graham said. “Everybody else in the district is going to have at least two losses. Every game we’ve played in district, whether we won by one or won by 20, hasn’t been easy.”
But tonight is about current bragging rights between two old rivals.