By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (February 18, 2016) — There were smiles, hugs, a brief huddle to raise the latest bi-district trophy, but the celebration was brief after Stephenville defeated Wichita Falls Hirschi at Breckenridge High School Tuesday.
If you got the sense the Honeybees had been there before, that’s because most of them have.
And so have those before them, and yes, even those before them.
Stephenville won its seventh straight bi-district playoff and now sets its sights on a seventh straight area title. The Bees battle Bridgeport at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Aledo High School, with the winner advancing to face Godley or Brownwood in the Region I-4A quarterfinals.
“It’s a lot of pressure on our shoulders because we want to defend it,” senior guard Bayleigh Chaviers said of the playoff streak. “We want to win again and keep the streak going for the younger classes.”
Pressure doesn’t seem to bother Chaviers, a two-time state champion in the 800 meter in track and field and a Miami signee for women’s soccer.
“I personally have tried to look at things the same way my whole high school career,” Chaviers said. “Since my freshman year I’ve tried to act like I’m a senior because that’s only fair to the seniors before me who were giving it their last shot, and because there was never any guarantee that I would get another one.”
Chaviers and backcourt mate Skylar Chipman are often at the head of the Stephenville press that has been disrupting opposing offenses all season.
“Our teamwork, speed, working together and hustle,” said Chipman of the strengths that drive Stephenville. “We’ve all been really close this year. The seniors at least, we’ve known each other throughout our careers, we’re going to graduate together, we’re really close.”
That chemistry, not the pressure defense provided by Chaviers, Chipman and others, may prove to be the biggest strength now that the intensity of the playoffs will be turned up several dials. That, and of course, experience.
“We have good girls, they all work together really well, and they want to win. They expect to win,” said Thorpe. “That’s part of what we’ve built here is the experience of having girls who have been here before and who expect to win at this point.”
He hopes that helps the Honeybees handle not only the pressure of the area round of the playoffs, but the pressure Bridgeport may try to apply, too.
“They ran a 1-3-1 press most the game the other night,” said Thorpe, who traveled with his assistants to scout Bridgeport in a 51-31 bi-district win over Midlothian Heritage. “I don’t know if they’ll try to do that against us, but that’s what they did (Monday) and (Heritage) never could figure it out.”
But Heritage is a first-year school. Stephenville is a six-time defending area champ.
“Post players are their biggest strength. I don’t think their guards match up very well with our guards,” said Thorpe. “Their guards are okay, but I think we’re pretty good at the guard spots, and most of our depth is at the guard spots.”
It’s what drives that pressure defense, according to Chaviers.
“Bridgeport is good, I mean they got this far, but our press works a lot of the time and I think it can work against them, too,” Chaviers said. “Hopefully we can get some turnovers and score some easy points off them.”
Senior guard Kali Smith, a 3-point marksmen, leads the Bees in scoring for the year.
“We’re going to have to push the ball and get it down the court,” said Smith, who watched some of the film Thorpe sent to the girls before practice Thursday afternoon. “If we do that and keep playing our defense I think we’ll be good.”
Like fellow seniors Chaviers, Chipman, Mikayla Hobbs and Ali Thorpe, Smith isn’t surprised to be in the area round, and isn’t ready for her career to end there.
“It feels great, but I knew we could get here,” said Smith. “We’re not happy, we want keep going, but it feels good.”
It’s a feeling Chipman isn’t ready to let go of, either.
“I’m glad we’ve had this opportunity to play together and we want to keep it going,” Chipman said. “I wouldn’t trade this for the world.”