OAK RIDGE NORTH — After Deidre Vasquez pulled the final threads of net from the rim at the south end of the Oak Ridge High School gymnasium, she carefully turned on the orange ladder to face her players, their parents and other supporters of her program.
She proudly held up the remainder of the nylon, an ear-to-ear smile on her face.
The Lady War Eagles (28-4) had just put the finishing touches on their outright District 15-6A title with a victory over Conroe on the final day of the regular season. The triumph locked the team into the No. 1 seed for the Class 6A playoffs, which will begin next Tuesday with a game against either Aldine MacArthur or Dekaney, the No. 4 seed from District 16-6A.
“I guess you just look back at the hard practices,” said Vasquez, who has guided her teams to at least a share of four consecutive district titles. Those squads have a combined 98-36 record, and this year’s team is not done yet. “We have this thing called the 15-minute workout that the girls hate, and we do that during the offseason. It’s on the track, and it tests you and pushes you to your limit. But they understand the value of it, so they get out there and push themselves.”
That work ethic and dedication to improvement has taken Oak Ridge far this season. The Lady War Eagles have won six consecutive games and 13 of their past 15 contests as they prepare to enter the most important portion of the season. The team’s four losses have come against some of the top teams in the Greater Houston area and beyond. No. 3 state-ranked Cypress Creek (35-0), No. 15 Cypress Ranch (28-4), Klein Collins (22-9) and Klein Oak (19-8) have combined to win 104 games this season, and the former two are district champions.
Vasquez feels like her team is battle-tested and ready for the challenge of the playoffs.
“We did very well in our (home) tournament, which was a smaller tournament with lots of games, and we did really well at Katy, which was a huge tournament,” she said. “You’ve got top teams from Austin — we beat them. You’ve got top teams from San Antonio — we battled against them and beat them. We had wins in tournaments, so I feel like, hey, this is just another tournament. Take one game at a time. Somebody’s got to win — why not Oak Ridge?”
Before the game against Conroe got underway, the Lady War Eagles paid tribute to their seven seniors — Grace Roberts, Alyssa Castro, Janiya Maxie, Mersadez Nephew, Maddie Morris, Elaizha Wilson and Kayla Alford. Each of those seniors wrote a piece of advice for their younger teammates to follow, words of wisdom that were read aloud during their introductions.
“Janiya, she said to find somebody who’s better than you and go against them every day,” Vasquez explained. “I feel like we’ve got that. We’ve got that competition, whether it’s a sophomore on a senior, doesn’t matter. We go at each other every day. It’s nice for it to pay off. They’re great basketball players, but they’re even better kids. It makes it so much better and so much more fun. We get to have fun with them and at the same time, work hard.”