Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

Sports

December 8, 2013

Lady Jackets open district play Tuesday with high hopes

CLEBURNE — After surprising everybody last year and ending the season in second place in District 8-4A, the No. 23-ranked Cleburne Lady Jackets won’t be surprising anybody this time around when district play starts Tuesday.

The Lady Jackets open District 8-4A play at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Everman. Cleburne begins league play with an 8-3 record, coming off a 1-point loss to the No. 1-ranked team in Class 3A, La Vega, on Thursday in the Ennis Tournament. The rest of the tournament was canceled due to inclement weather.

At this point last season, the Lady Jackets began district play with a .500 record. It’s a different story this season as Cleburne is ranked in the top 25 of the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches state poll, and the Lady Jackets’ three losses on the season have come against state-ranked teams from Class 5A to 3A.

Cleburne Coach Jamie Calahan said he feels good about where the Lady Jackets sit entering district play.

“I feel like that we’re playing really good defense,” Calahan said. “That’s where it starts. I think we have some things to improve on but we have time to improve on those things. District is 14 games and we’ve only played 11. We still have along way to go in our season. We’re looking forward to it. This is what the season is all about. We’re excited and ready to play.”

Through 11 games, the Lady Jackets have averaged 55.3 points per game on offense while holding opponents to 35.6 points per game defensively. And defense is one of three things the Lady Jackets will need to do well to win the district, Calahan said.

“We’re improving and we’re getting better,” Calahan said. “We’re not the tallest team in the world, so we have to box out to rebound. If we defend, rebound and take care of the ball, then we’ll go from there and see where we’re at. I’m not going to overly concern myself with offense, offense, offense. We have to defend, rebound and take care of the ball. If we do that, we know we’ll give ourselves a chance to win every game.

“We can always be better on the offensive end and in executing our offense, but it’s something Coach Jeff Cody taught me a long time ago, defense is what’s going to win it. That’s something we take pride in.”

While Cleburne has been led in scoring by seniors Courtney Jeffcoat and Bria McCullough and freshman Akarian Morgan, the Lady Jackets’ strength has come in their numbers. From the starting unit to the last person off the bench, every player has stepped up and played a big role, Calahan said.

With the Lady Jackets setting a goal of winning the district title, Calahan said that won’t be an easy task considering the parity and strength of District 8-4A.

“I think that any given night, if you don’t show up and bring your A game, you’ll get beat,” he said. “There’s not any give-me’s in the distrcit. I know we’re picked to win it but if we take a night off, anyone can knock you off. Every night you have to play. I think this district is as competitive as any.”

While Cleburne snuck up on some teams last season, Calahan said that won’t be the case this year.

“That’s the biggest difference in this year to last year is everybody’s gunning for us,” Calahan said. “That’s what we’ve worked for. We don’t have a problem with that. We have to bring our A game every night because there’s people waiting to get us.

“I’ll be surprised if the district champion goes undefeated. But that’s our goal. We don’t want to lose one. If we bring it every single day, I like our chances. But if we don’t, somebody will knock us off. Every night ought to be interesting. If you play good defense, you’ll give yourself a chance to win.”

After the Lady Jackets’ district opener on Tuesday, Cleburne hosts Waco University at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

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