Today, more than two months after the Permian and Odessa High girls basketball teams started the 2017-18 season, one of the most important dates on the calendar has arrived — the start of the 10-game District 2-6A campaign.
The Lady Panthers begin with four of their first five district games at home, including a 6 p.m. tipoff tonight against Midland Lee.
The Lady Bronchos open with a road trip to face Amarillo Tascosa, also at 6 p.m.
Both the Lady Bronchos and Lady Panthers have younger teams with a limited amount of previous District 2-6A experience.
For Odessa High, junior Skylar Herrera, the 2016-17 District 2-6A co-Defensive Player of the Year, is the only returner to start in every district game a year ago.
Klarrissa Cruz is the only returning Permian player from last year’s all-district team and has already seen her team go through some highs and lows this season.
“It’s kind of like a roller coaster. We’ve been through our ups and downs, but we’ve pushed through,” Cruz said. “We really work as a good team and we really communicate with each other. We’ve gotten to know everyone very well.”
The Lady Panthers (10-9) have made the playoffs each of the past three seasons after taking fourth place in their district, while Odessa High is chasing their first playoff berth in over a decade.
The last time the Lady Bronchos (5-16) made the postseason was 2005 and most around the Odessa High program thought that streak was going to end last year.
That’s when Odessa High entered district play with a 17-4 record, but the Lady Bronchos lost their first eight district games to be eliminated from playoff contention.
Most of that team has graduated and a younger group of Lady Bronchos hope to turn the tide of what has been a nondistrict campaign full of growing pains.
“Because of our current record now, a lot of people don’t expect us to compete,” Odessa High head coach Olivia Pyburn said. “But I do know that one thing that they know about Odessa High girls is that they will put up a great fight. They won’t just lie down and hand it to them.”
Most recently, Odessa High went through what Pyburn considers a mini District 2-6A in the Lady Roo Classic in Weatherford where Odessa High got to see plenty of different styles and solid teams.
“Hopefully I’ll see us talking and not giving up when we’re down, some people stepping up and being leaders.” Odessa High post Jaquelin Urquidi said. “Our confidence is up there. We’re going to do our best to win games and play hard.”
Permian and Odessa High face each other twice during the District 2-6A stretch. The first crosstown-rivalry matchup takes place Jan. 16 at the Permian Fieldhouse, with the latter game at the OHS Fieldhouse on Feb. 2.
“That’s one thing in this district that I see is it’s anybody’s game, anybody’s night,” Permian head coach Angela Braziel-Smith said.
Permian has had several changes to its opening-game roster throughout the season and brings a diverse squad into district play.
“We’ve had a lot of challenges, but with this group of girls, they’ve got heart and they go out and they play hard,” Braziel-Smith said. “We’ve found ways to win and compete.”
Permian will focus on consistency throughout district play as it battles with more experienced squads. Lady Panthers’ senior Alexis Contee believes that her team is ready for that challenge.
“I’ve learned that we have a lot of chemistry together … It’s like one big family, we’re always here for each other,” Contee said. “I know that our defense is very good and I know we can use that against any team that we play against — that’s our strength.”
Odessa High will focus on limiting its mistakes. Turnovers have been a problem all season long for the Lady Bronchos and Pyburn knows that problem will be fixed now or never.
“I think we’re just going to use these few practices that we have before Friday to regroup and get back together and refocus,” Herrera said this week. “I just see it as it’s our time to show people what we’re about.”
There will be plenty bumps in the road during the next five weeks. Both Permian and Odessa High will have two trips to the Chaparral Center in Midland and have to fend off the sharp shooters at Wolfforth Frenship.
Both teams also will have to try to defend Amarillo Tascosa’s Ka’Lia Smith, who was the district’s MVP last season.
And no matter what challenges are ahead, getting a top-four spot means their season doesn’t end early.
“On any night, it can go either way. We just got to play the way that I know we can play,” Pyburn said about her team. “Once we do those things I’m pretty sure we’ll be fine.
“We just got to play.”