HOWE — There was a practice to get ready for and film to study. Senior point guard Jenna Honore had an ice pack wrapped around her right shin. The basketballs have not been put away at Howe just yet and that is a major accomplishment because it is the first time in program history the Lady Bulldogs are competing at the regional tournament.
“It's really exciting because we've worked so hard since we were little,” said Cassidy Anderson, who is one of five seniors on the roster and one of four senior starters. “It's nice to see it's paid off.”
A year after coming up just short of being one of the final 16 teams still playing, Howe (28-5) is now two wins away from state as it faces Mount Pleasant Chapel Hill (32-2) in a Class 3A Region II semifinal at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Prosper.
The Lady Devils know a thing about getting to the final four — Chapel Hill is the defending champion.
“I don't have to reiterate anything. They know,” Howe head coach Derek Lands said. “It's about what we're doing, not the other team. That's the way we've approached it all season long and we're not changing it now.”
The winner will face either Mineola or Winnsboro at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Prosper for a berth at the state tournament next week. But before that opportunity can happen, the first order of business will be the toughest task of the season. It might only be for a minute that Howe will enjoy what it has accomplished so far, yet it will be enjoyed for good reason.
“It's good to get there,” Lands said. “I think it takes a little bit of luck. We haven't had any bad injuries. You also have to be fortunate that the kids get along together well.”
Anderson and her classmates Ally Harvey, Honore and Molly Wilson are joined by Sierra Copeland in the starting lineup with junior Katie Grogan and sophomore Trinity Williams providing punch off the bench.
“We work really well together,” Anderson said. “We pick each other up. We make each other better.”
Until 2004, the program did not have a postseason victory. In the last 17 years, there have been 13 trips to the postseason with the best finishes coming on region quarterfinal berths in 2013 and last season.
A year ago the Lady Bulldogs were eliminated by Mineola, 36-35, after Howe held a 10-point lead through three quarters but scored just three points in the final eight minutes.
“That fueled their fire,” Lands said. “We led the whole game and we got to the end and things didn't go our way. I haven't talked about it all year and they haven't mentioned it but you know it's been in the back of their minds.”
In three playoff games, the Lady Bulldogs have not allowed more than 34 points, including a 43-33 victory against Edgewood in the region quarterfinals earlier this week.
“When we made it back we weren't going to lose because we didn't want to feel that way again,” Harvey said.
Copeland had 12 points and 15 rebounds, Harvey added 10 points, six rebounds and three blocks, Honore totaled eight points, four rebounds and four assists, Anderson chipped in seven points and six rebounds and Wilson finished with six points, four assists and three rebounds.
Edgewood did not score a point in the first quarter, had 16 points at the break and barely hit that number in the second half, getting 17 points combined across the final two frames.
“Definitely hard to find a weak spot,” Lands said his team's defense. “They've played together for a long time. The more you play together, the better the chemistry is.”
During Howe's 12-game winning streak, no team has scored more than the 34 points by Emory Rains in the area round.
“I think it starts with Jenna. We have so much good pressure up top,” Harvey said. “If someone gets beat there's another ready to help and then there's help for the help.”
While Chapel Hill lost the state title game MVP Ja'Mya Bishop and just one other senior to graduation, the Lady Devils brought back a pair of all-state tourney selections in senior guards Rebekah Crane and Mason Garrett.
Chapel Hill went 37-0 last season and capped the perfect run with a 55-46 victory against Woodville for its first championship in its first trip to state.
Crane has signed with Stephen F. Austin and earlier in the season became the first player in school history with 2,000 career points.
“She's the point guard and a really good player,” Lands said.
The Lady Devils, who advanced to the region semis with a 58-41 win over Prairiland, opened the playoffs with a 103-30 win over DeKalb and then rolled to a 108-40 victory against Gladewater Sabine. In the win over Sabine, Crane finished with 51 points and made 18-of-24 shots, including 10-of-14 three-pointers.
“They have really good shooters, especially from the outside,” Lands said. “That's something we're going to have to do a good job against.”