The 2021-2022 season has been a bit of a roller-coaster for the Veribest High School girls basketball team but the Lady Falcons finally feel more like the 2020 team that made school history and advanced to the UIL State Tournament two years ago.
Led by their third coach since beginning of the season, Veribest used an aggressive defense against Water Valley to come away with a 37-16 win in a Class 1A girls bidistrict basketball game Monday at San Angelo Lake View’s Ben Norton Gym.
The Lady Falcons, ranked No. 17 in the state by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, improved to 21-7 for the season and advanced to the area round where they face Iraan, a 37-32 winner over Van Horn on Monday.
For guard Kennadi Wheeless, the win over traditional rival Water Valley was sweet redemption as she hopes to advance to the state tournament in a second sport in her senior year and return to San Antonio.
“Obviously, our goal is to make it back to the Alamodome,” said Wheeless, who was part of that historic season under first-year head coach Chris Schlicke.
The Lady Falcons fell short of a back-to-back regional championship last season and Schlicke – a former assistant to 4A Canyon coach Tate Lombard while at 3A Wall — moved on, taking an assistant coaching position at a larger school.
Colin Toot was hired from Sonora to replace Schlicke but was reassigned after the first few games when Veribest was finally able to move on from the volleyball season that saw the Lady Falcons make history again by qualifying for state.
Head volleyball coach and athletic director Denise Richards coached the Lady Falcons briefly before Tom Briley was named head coach.
“Three coaches in one season, is not normal,” said Wheeless, who watched her team struggle to a 5-4 mark before district play started. “So that definitely brought some changes. But we have a new coach now who knows us, and we click with him really well. That’s what it took for us to get past that.”
Briley said he has concentrated on getting the Lady Falcons to focus on themselves as the road to San Antonio began.
“We actually just kind of run our normal stuff that we’ve kind of incorporated late in the season,” Briley said. “It was nothing too different, it’s stuff we’re used to and I think we’re good at, so we kind of went to that game plan and it worked out for us.”
The “normal” for the Veribest crew was an in-your-face defense and a patient motion offense taking advantage of the Lady Falcon’s quick guards – Wheeless, junior Callie Briley and junior Alliyah Harrison, who combined to score all nine Veribest points in the 9-5 opening quarter against the Lady Wildcats.
After the first quarter, Veribest held the Lady Cats to just six more points in the next two quarters to build an 27-11 lead going into the fourth. The Lady Falcons outscored Water Valley 10-5 in the fourth.
“Water Valley is a rivalry game so it’s always tough,” Briley said. “They’ve got great ball players and they’re well-coached. We knew driving up here it was going to be a fight.”
Briley said he had not looked ahead to the next opponent on the bracket.
He hopes his team will take it, “one game at a time, just like anybody else. You don’t ever look ahead because then you overestimate your next opponent, and it costs you.”
Last year, Veribest – which won the first of eventual back-to-back undefeated district crowns – earned a first-round bye in the playoffs because the UIL only allowed three teams per district to qualify to the playoffs. This year, a fourth team was added, setting up the packed-house battle between the two Tom Green County schools.
“With four teams going to the playoffs, we knew it was going to be hard,” said Wheeless, who finished with five points, including one of two Veribest 3-point goals on the night. “Water Valley wasn’t going to lose without a fight.”
Callie Briley led Veribest with nine points while Emily Ward finished with seven. Harrison added four points on 4-of-5 free-throw shooting in the first quarter as the Lady Falcons took the early lead.
Water Valley, the fourth-place team in District 11-1A behind three 20-plus-game winners in district champ Robert Lee, Irion County and Sterling City – a bidistrict winner over Eden in the first of the playoff double-header Monday at Lake View — ended its season at 17-12.
Junior guard Emery Sears was the Lady Wildcats’ leading scorer and finished with 11.
Class 1A Girls
Veribest 37, Water Valley 16
Water Valley 5 4 2 5—16
Veribest 9 9 9 10—37
WATER VALLEY: Kylie Bradley 1 1-4 3, Aly Greebon 0 0-0 0, Jayden Gomez 0 0-0 0, Chelsea Melito 0 0-0 0, Emery Sears 5 0-0 11, Emily Crawford 1 0-0 2, Kyleigh Doss 0 0-0 0, Totals 7 1-4 16.
VERIBEST: Kennadi Wheeless 2 0-0 5, Emily Ward 3 1-2 7, Alliyah Harrison 0 4-5 4, Cora Blackwell 2, 3-4 8, Meredith Robles 1 2-2 4, Callie Briley 4 1-2 9, Totals 12 11-15 37.
Three-point goals: Water Valley 1 (Sears); Veribest 2 (Wheeless, Blackwell). Total fouls: Water Valley 11, Veribest 10. Records: Water Valley ended its season at 17-12; Veribest improved to 21-7.