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Ten Highland Lakes Sports Insights

CAPTION: Llano senior softball pitcher Madison Kloepper signs her National Letter of Intent to play for Western New Mexico Nov. 9 as she is surrounded by her loved ones and Llano softball coaches Beau and Barbara Burnett (standing). Courtesy photo

The contenders continue to be separated from the pretenders and the Highland Lakes region has two football teams still on the path of winning a state championship. And while the gridiron continues to take center stage, the basketball season is revealing some talented and hard-working teams, too. But there’s no greater addiction than Texas high school football, so let’s start there.

  1. The Llano High School football team added its 12th win this season and has a chance to add No. 13 — the second 13 under the watchful eye of head coach Matt Green — when the Yellow Jackets take on Vanderbilt Industrial in the regional finals at 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25, at Heroes Stadium, 4799 Thousand Oaks Drive in San Antonio. Llano got there thanks to a punishing defense where stingy doesn’t begin to describe the 21-0 win against Goliad Nov. 18. Ironfisted is more accurate. Defensive coordinator Matt Anastasio’s unit exemplified a universal truth in sports — offense comes and goes but defense never goes out of style. And to be successful, it can never take a day off. It was the kind of performance that will definitely be needed when the Jackets face Industrial, another mirror image of a run-first offense that controls the clock and limits opportunities for the opponents. That didn’t work for Goliad. The Jackets limited the Tigers to 173 yards of total offense, 64 yards in the second half. No stat was more telling than Goliad’s rushing yards: 21 carries for 24 yards. Take out one pass completion of 50 yards, and Goliad averages around 25 yards passing per quarter. In his postgame comments, Green noted the competition gets tougher as the opponents get better. And that’s what makes practicing and playing on Thanksgiving week supply memories that last a lifetime.
  2. The Smoking For Jesus Eagles returned to playing field after a two-week break and didn’t look like they left in mercy-ruling Johnson County Sports Association 45-0 Nov. 18 in the Texas Association of Independent Athletic Organizations playoffs. Like the Jackets, defensive coordinator Boo Maxwell had his unit dialed in. The Eagles didn’t give up anything easy and stonewalled the Lions during the two quarters of play. Meanwhile, Smoking For Jesus feasted offensively, scoring in different ways thanks to explosive plays that humble any defense. The Eagles welcome Bulverde Gloria Deo at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25, at Wallace Riddell Park in Burnet. This is a rematch of a 36-34 Eagles win Oct. 28.
  3. The Marble Falls High School girls basketball team hosted its annual Hill Country Classic Nov. 17-19, posting a 3-1 record. The Lady Mustangs graciously gave up their fifth game to Saginaw after one of the other 31 teams dropped out of the tournament. Saginaw was able to play five games in three days. Teams play in tournaments to give their players plenty of court time that gets their attention more than practice. Still, the Lady Mustangs showed a lot about themselves that should excite fans. Solid defense and roster depth where any player can be the top scorer makes it difficult for opponents to focus on one Lady Mustang. The tournament brought teams from all four regions representing multiple classes, including at least two that reached the state tournament in March.
  4. Those teams featured head coaches who at one time called Marble Falls home. The first is Fredericksburg head coach Carrie Grona, who was Stephanie Gamble’s top assistant at Marble Falls from 2007-2012. Grona guided the Lady Billies to the Class 4A state tournament in 2020 and 2022. This year’s Billies has a pair of sisters familiar to Marble Falls fans — Grona’s two daughters Rilyn, a freshman, and Taylor, a junior. Fredericksburg won the Hill Country Classic with stifling defense and the ability to connect on 3-pointers and lay-ups where opponents didn’t give anything away. Twelve players return from the 2021-22 regional championship team and the region should once more come down to Fredericksburg and Boerne.
  5. The other familiar face belongs to Chris Jost, who took over for Gamble, spending three years in Marble Falls and is now the head coach at San Saba. Jost guided the Lady Dillos to the Class 2A state tournament in 2022, the same year the team finished third in its Class 2A district that includes Mason and San Saba. There’s a belief that district is the strongest in Class 2A Region IV. Does that sound familiar to you, Lady Mustang fans? Nine Lady Dillos are back from the state tournament team
  6. Let’s hand out some game balls. To Llano senior defensive end Jaxon Rhea, who had seven tackles, five solo, and two sacks. Every time it seemed Goliad was going to get going, Rhea had a tackle that fired up the Llano sideline and kept the Tigers from gaining any momentum.
  7. To Smoking For Jesus senior Jonathan Frazier, who had 161 all-purpose yards during the win against Johnson County: 3 catches for 135 yards and 3 touchdowns and a carry for 26 yards.
  8. To Marble Falls senior guard Tea Rodriguez, who dropped in 18 points in the Lady Mustangs’ 58-50 win against San Antonio East Central. Rodriguez hit four 3-pointers and showed during warm-ups she had the hot hand. Next up is a 12:30 p.m. tip-off against Leander Rouse Tuesday, Nov. 22, at Max Copeland Gym on the MFHS campus.
  9. The Marble Falls boys basketball team (2-1) returns home Monday, Nov. 21, in a 12:30 p.m. tip-off against Leander Vandegrift. The Mustangs suffered their first loss, a 52-27 setback to Waco High Nov. 18.
  10. Both Burnet High School basketball teams also will play before enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday. On Monday, Nov. 21, the Lady Dawgs (2-2) welcome Dripping Springs, while the Bulldogs (1-3) travel to Little River Academy. Both tip off at 12:30 p.m. The Bulldogs welcome Canyon Lake at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22, and the Lady Dawgs visit Mason at 2:30 p.m.
  11. One more — my apologies to Llano senior softball pitcher Madison Kloepper for not congratulating her on signing to play for Western New Mexico Nov. 9, the first day of the early signing period. Kloepper and the Lady Jackets qualified for the playoffs last season and will have a big say on who wins the district crown in the spring.

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