MINERAL WELLS —
If someone would have told me that on Jan. 15 (the day of this writing and in just the second week of the District 6-3A season) that the Lady Rams and Rams basketball teams would have combined for 30 wins, I would have probably looked at you funny.
Especially if you had told me the Lady Rams would have 19 of those wins.
Again, this writing was done the afternoon before Tuesday’s night’s games at Springtown, so hopefully the MWHS varsity teams added two more wins to the total.
If the games in Springtown played out like I thought, Friday night at the MWHS gym will be district-altering contests for both teams. But back to that later.
The story of basketball season has to be the Lady Rams, a team with not only four new starters, but those starters are also four ladies new to the program that have joined returning all-district, first-team starter Niya Benavides.
If they won on Tuesday, the Lady Rams, which will probably be the only team in Texas with 20 wins that is not ranked, will have a district showdown Friday with state-ranked No. 2 Kennedale.
What you might be thinking is that the Lady Rams have no chance against the highly-touted Ladycats, and the thought may have already crossed your mind that a No. 2 team will in no way lose to an unranked team, 20 wins or not.
But there is a little story line involved in this that most MWHS fans may not know. New Lady Rams head coach Ed Shelstead has coached Kennedale’s two stars – Autumn Williams and McKinley Bostad – in summer select basketball, and Shelstead told me “both are legitimate Division I (college) players.”
But since he knows them well, my guess is that he also knows how to defend them, and Sydney Shelstead, the Lady Rams’ high-scoring post who played with both Kennedale stars, also knows how to play them.
Two things Kennedale, no matter how good they really are, will not be prepared for.
First, they have not seen a quartet of defenders like Lady Rams’ guards Courtney Peña, Bethany Allen, Natalie Ragland and Kennedy Shelstead.
Peña and Allen are a real pain in the neck for opposing guards trying to run an offense. They play “in your shirt” defense on the perimeter, and you can see that guards of MWHS opponents are not having fun when they play the Lady Rams.
Ragland is also a great defender and excellent athlete, and the same goes for Kennedy Shelstead, who has a long reach. Kennedy also demonstrated last week that she can produce on both ends of the floor as she had a team-high 22 points in the win at Diamond Hill.
Also, speaking of defense, the 6-1 Sydney Shelstead is every bit of dominant on the defensive end as she is on offense where she leads the team in scoring and is also averaging double figures in rebounds each game.
The second thing Kennedale won’t be prepared for is the will to win by this group.
The Lady Rams, of course, have no problem facing a high-ranked team, and honestly, they like this matchup as to really measure their progress.
But not being ranked? This is a team that wants to prove to Kennedale and the girls’ high school basketball world that they certainly deserve to make the Texas Girls Coaches Association Top 25 poll or the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches poll.
Not ranked? Really? I can’t wait for Friday.
One may also question why I have lumped the 11-12 Rams basketball team in this space. That is easy to explain.
The Rams could be 2-0 in district when you read this, and I realize that with eight district games remaining that it could be too early to have any “story lines.”
Last year, the Rams came into district play not knowing their “identity,” and head coach Aaron Pappas had been juggling the lineup in an effort to try and find the best combinations.
The Rams figured out who they were and were unbeatable the last half of district play, which culminated in a playoff upset win over No. 10 Burkburnett.
It was “in your face” defense and “run and gun” offense that became the Rams’ identity in 2012, but they also were the hardest playing team I saw the last month of the season.
Well, Friday night at Diamond Hill, when the Rams got into trouble and were trailing late in the third quarter, their “identity” arose.
The Rams trailed by six in the third quarter only to win the game by 21.
Why such the drastic turnaround? Pressure defense.
The Rams played harder than Diamond Hill, and when they got down they turned to a reliable source: a full-court defense with half-court trapping and just plain and simple hard play.
Hard play – the kind of effort that makes the opponent know right away they are in a hard and not-so-fun game – seems to be reappearing on the boys’ hardwood.
If the Rams keep that up, a repeat district title will not be out of the question.
See everyone at the gym on Friday. I can’t wait!