Decade of excellence

It seems hard to believe, but there was a time not all that long ago when the Highland girls basketball team struggled mightily to get victories.During the five seasons from 1995 to 2000, the Lady Hornets won a total of just 15 games, including an 0-21 mark the final year.But the start of the new millennium also marked a new era for the program.Under head coach Shea Baucom, Highland sudden-ly turned the corner starting with the 2001-02 season. Baucom led the Lady Hornets to eight straight playoff appearances before leaving at the end of the 2008-09 season. But the wins have kept coming.Derek Copeland took over last year and led Highland to a 19-8 record and an area playoff berth. And under first-year coach Ryan Dollar, the 2011 Lady Hornets have already gone a step further.Highland (21-11) is in the Class 1A, Division II regional quarterfinals following last Friday’s 47-41 area playoff win over Wink. With a win at 8 p.m. today over Bronte (20-9) at Angelo State Uni-versity’s Junell Center, the Lady Hornets will advance to the Region II tournament that begins Friday at Abil-ene Christian University.Only one other Nolan County athletic program — Roscoe football, which has 13 straight playoff appearances — has had a longer run than the one being ex-perienced at Highland.This is the sixth time during its 10-year run that Highland has at least made the regional quarterfinals. But it’s the deepest playoff run since 2008 when the Lady Hornets were 30-2, setting a school record for victories and reaching the regional semifinals for the fifth straight season. Highland has gotten this far with a lineup that returns its two leading scorers from a year ago, senior post Callie Sandusky and junior guard Kara Hughey. But while those two have continued to be productive and finished 1-2 in scoring again during the regular season, the Lady Hornets’ top scorer in their two playoff victories has been freshman post Sierra Allen.Allen has a 13-point aver-age in the postseason, scor-ing 11 in a 36-31 bi-district win over Robert Lee and following that with a 15-point outing against Wink three nights later. In both games, she saved her best for the second half. Allen even hit a key — and rare — 3-pointer against Wink in the fourth quarter, which helped spark a come-from-behind rally late in the fourth quarter.Highland also got offen-sive production throughout its lineup during district when it won 10 of 12 games, losing only to state-ranked Roby twice by a total of 13 points. The other starters, senior guard Shyan Womack and junior guard Jessica McCain, each had double-figure outings as did another freshman, Beth Richburg. But defense is usually the key to success, and Highland excels there as well. The Lady Hornets have given up 60 or more points just once and 50 or more just four times. Today’s game will be a rematch, as Highland and Bronte met in the semifinals of Bronte’s tournament in early December and Highland won, 46-42. If the Lady Hornets win again today, they will face either Newcastle or Throck-morton in the Region II-A semifinals on Friday.