Thirty-seven years of coaching make Jimmy Avery a bit of an authority on the matters of Texas girls basketball.
When Avery — Ponder’s head coach who returned the bulk of a roster that reached the Class 3A semifinals a year ago — believes he has the means to challenge for a state title, it holds weight.
Conversely, Avery has labeled this season among the most challenging of his lengthy career.
The senior-heavy Lady Lions (12-11, 5-0), ranked No. 22 in the latest Texas Association of Basketball Coaches poll, have been dealt a pair of season-ending injuries to proven veterans Karly Ivy (shoulder) and Kenzie Crider (knee).
Their void and a brawny nonconference slate had the Lady Lions staring at a losing record before starting their district stretch, where they’ve since been on a five-game tear.
Ponder, ranked as high as No. 4 in November, has been forced to tinker with different lineups and play a trio of freshmen as it prepares for a key stretch.
The Lady Lions travel to Valley View on Tuesday before hosting No. 21 Whitesboro on Friday, a litmus test for Avery’s adjusting squad.
“It’s been a tough year,” Avery said. “But the seniors have been a huge help, trying to teach those freshmen how to play.”
Having one of the best players in the classification helps.
Tate Wells, who has signed a letter of intent with NCAA Division II Harding University, poured in a combined 63 points last week in wins over Paradise and Callisburg.
The reigning District 10-3A Offensive Player of the Year and Denton Record-Chronicle Girls Basketball Player of the Year is shouldering more of a load with the losses of Ivy, a Mississippi College signee, and Crider.
So have fellow double-digit scorers Kassi Ballard, who is headed to Bethany College, and Marlee Moynagh.
“I’ve had to rebound more,” said Wells, a 5-foot-8 guard.
Wells and company have been eyeing a return to state since falling to eventual champion Brownfield 51-48 in the 2021 semifinals, a game the Lady Lions led at halftime.
Ponder still believes it can make another deep tournament run, but it’s a different dynamic that’s come with a host of new challenges.
“It’s been frustrating,” Wells said. “Things were looking up, then injuries happened. But seeing the freshman step up has been good for us.”
Avery and Wells are confident they’ll continue to jell through district play.
“There’s a lot of senior leadership and experience on this team,” Avery said.
Big win for Argyle girls
Top-ranked Argyle remained unscrathed after handling sixth-ranked Kennedale 84-56 on Monday in nondistrict play.
Caroline Lyles and Ashlin Crabtree each scored 20 points and Gabby Campbell had 17 points for the Lady Eagles, who hit 13 3-pointers in the game and now sit at 25-0.
Jayla Jackson-Allen had 20 points to lead Kennedale (22-5).
Six Denton-area girls teams and three boys teams were again ranked in the TABC poll this week.
Argyle is No. 1 in the 4A girls poll, shared with No. 14 Sanger (19-4). Lake Dallas (20-4) checked in at No. 11 in 5A, Braswell (23-2) is No. 12 in 6A and Liberty Christian (20-7) is ranked No. 6 in TAPPS 6A and Ponder (12-11) is No. 22 in 3A.
Guyer’s boys (22-3) bumped up one spot to No. 13 in 6A, Argyle (17-6) is ranked No. 12 in 4A and Ponder (18-3) is No. 22 in 3A.