The Highland girls basketball team has faced a lot of shorter teams â€” most much shorter â€” on its way to a second straight appearance at the state tournament held in Austin.
Garden City, whom the Lady Hornets defeated 51-37 in the regional finals at Abilene Christian University, was the latest team to have trouble dealing with a Highland team that has four starters who stand 5-10 or taller.
But it's a safe bet that the Lady Hornets haven't yet faced a team which has the "lightning quick" speed â€” head coach Shea Baucom's description â€” possessed by their next foe. Calvert not only brings a gaudy 24-1 record into Friday's semifinal matchup at Frank Erwin Center that tips off at 1:30 p.m., but has also succeeded in defeating taller teams. The Lady Trojans advanced to the state tournament by beating Leakey â€” whose tallest starter is 6-1 â€” 67-43 this past Saturday with a team that doesn't start anyone taller than 5-8.
That's because Calvert has thrived on forcing turnovers with their pressure defense and team speed. Tiffany Williams, one of its top scorers, won the state track championship in the 400 meters last spring and fellow senior LaKeydra Mosley won the 100 dash, with Williams placing second.
Against Leakey, Calvert scored 29 points off turnovers with junior Diesha Clark â€” a 5-5 junior point guard who also went to the state track meet as a sprinter â€” directing the show.
Jaylonn Walker, a 5-7 forward, scored 30 points and the 5-5 Williams had 26 against Leakey to account for most of the total. But the other Lady Trojans, especially Clark, can score as well.
"They've got five guys on the floor," Baucom said, "that can really move. "As far as team speed, they are the fastest team that we've seen. I'd say that they press 90 percent of the time. And they shoot the 3 well. They've got a couple of kids that are real accurate and they can make it from way out. The closest that we've seen to them is Odessa Permian and Garden City (both Highland wins, with the Lady Hornets defeating 5A Permian 55-51 in a tournament in December)."
No. 2-ranked Highland has one other distinct advantage other than height over Calvert. It is the only one of the four schools at this year's Class 1A, Division II state tournament to also go to Austin this past year as well. If the Lady Hornets win Friday, they will face top-ranked Lipan (36-1) or Nazareth (34-2) for the state title at 7 p.m. Saturday. Nazareth was No. 3 in the last regular season poll.
In 2013, Highland went to the state tournament for the first time in school history by beating Garden City in the Region II-1A final also held at ACU, then lost to top-ranked Saltillo 41-19 in the state semifinals.
Four of those starters, plus a few top reserves who were a big part of the entire experience are back another try.
Sierra Allen, a 6-1 senior post, is the only player averaging in double figures for Highland this season. Allen is averaging 18 points and close to seven rebounds a game and will be the focal point of Calvert's defense, as she has been all year. But the No. 9-ranked Lady Trojans may discover, as have the Lady Hornets' other opponents, that Highland doesn't need Allen to score a lot in order to have success. In fact, Allen â€” who will play basketball for ACU next year â€” fouled out of both games at the regional tournament and scored a total of just 20 points. She cheered on her teammates from the bench for most of the second half as Highland routed Roby, 60-29, in the regional semifinals and again in the fourth quarter vs. Garden City. Madison Moseley (17 points), a 5-7 junior guard, picked up much of the scoring slack along with 6-0 senior post Schyler Kimbrell, who had 12 points.
For the season, Moseley averages 9 points and Kimbrell 7 per game, plus 5 rebounds. Beth Richburg, a 5-10 senior forward, averages 8 points and 5 rebounds. The fifth starter is Sierra Allen's younger sister, Hannah, who averages 7 points and 4 assists per game.
Calvert also starts Raquel Wortham, a 5-8 senior, in addition to Williams, Mosley, Clark and Walker. The Lady Trojans are also making their second state tournament appearance, the other one coming in 2007.
"You've got to protect the ball against them," Baucom said. "We've got to handle their pressure and once we get past halfcourt, set up and be patient running our offense. If you're not disciplined, they can get you out of position defensively.
"But after watching film on them with the kids, they seem real excited about playing and they are looking forward to the challenge.
"There's no fear now. We know what it takes to get here because we've been through that. I know the kids don't have as much nervousness and as many questions as they did last year," Baucom continued.
"It's a goal every year to be the best, but this year in particular we were ready. As soon as we got home last year, it was like it was time to start preparing for (this year). The kids were anxious to get back.
"We're going down there with the goal of winning the whole thing. That has to be your mindset. I don't want this to feel like a field trip. We want to enjoy ourselves while we're in Austin, but at the same time we've got business to take care of."