Trying to figure out who will be the Big Country’s best basketball teams by the time the playoffs roll around in February and March is a little like predicting the weather in West Texas: You think you have a pretty good idea but there are always going to be some surprises.
While fans don’t really start paying close attention to the basketball races until district play begins following the Christmas holiday break, teams are forged by their early pre-district and tournament play in November and December.
With that said, it would be hard not to put the Jim Ned girls at the top of the list of teams to keep an eye on this season. The Lady Indians went 35-2 a year ago, falling one step short of reaching the Class 3A state tournament in San Antonio with a heartbreaking loss in the regional final. Jim Ned returns three starters off that team, including senior guard Riley Grohman who is attracting attention from Division I schools.
Both the Jim Ned boys and girls should have strong teams this year. They play in District 6-3A which is always a strong basketball district that includes schools like Wall, Clyde, Merkel and San Angelo TLCA, all of whom have postseason aspirations.
Another school with strong boys and girls teams this year is Eula, favored to capture District 13-1A titles.
District 10-2A is always entertaining. The seven schools in that district – Anson, Hawley, Hamlin, Haskell, Stamford, Albany and Cisco – are all within an hour or less of each other. So that means there is lots of familiarity among the teams. And it is a district that has had success. Hawley and Albany won state football championships in 2022. Stamford has made the state tournament in girls basketball and softball in recent years. Both the boys and girls races in District 10-2A should be competitive again this year.
There are a number of new faces in new places this season. Michael Bacon, who has previously coached at Abilene Christian School and Ballinger, is the new boys coach at Abilene Cooper. Former Merkel coach Laura Lange takes over the girls program at ACS.
Other schools with new faces on the bench include Albany girls coach Brad Stautzenberger, Comanche boys coach Corey Scott, Hamlin boys coach Christopher Harvey, Hamlin girls coach Cory Benson, Eastland girls coach Shon Sheffield, Bangs boys coach Damon Wilson, Stamford boys coach Jeremy Jones and Sweetwater boys coach Dillon Gainey.
For basketball fans who want to see the “best of the best,” mark your calendar when Lubbock Monterey comes in Abilene. The Lady Plainsmen will play three times in the Key City– at Abilene High, Cooper and Wylie – during District 4-5A play. Monterey features junior guard Aaliyah Chavez, who is ranked as the nation’s No. 1 women’s basketball prospect in the Class of 2025. She recently narrowed her lists of prospective colleges down to 10 schools – Texas Tech, Texas, LSU, Arizona, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Southern Cal, Tennessee, UCLA and South Carolina. She is already the leading scorer in Monterey history after just two seasons.
This is the third basketball edition of our Varsity Preview magazine. I hope it helps get you ready for the upcoming season. It is time for some hoops.