Robyn Welch and Jeff Smith have spent years on the sidelines together coaching girls basketball.

Tonight they'll be on opposing benches.

Bishop Gorman welcomes rival Grace Community to Haddad Gym tonight for a doubleheader with added meaning for the coaches of the two girls teams, who tip off at 6 p.m. and are followed by the boys at 7:30 p.m.

The Lady Crusaders haven't lost to the Lady Cougars since 2009, when Grace, then coached by Smith, gave Larry Hargett's side its only league loss prior to Gorman's run to the final four.

Smith now coaches Gorman while his longtime assistant Welch is the head coach at Grace.

"It's one of those interesting and exciting environments where you play against someone who taught you a lot and you coached with," Welch said. "It is going to be fun to be able to go up against someone who taught me a lot about the game. I respect him immensely."

Smith said the idea of competing against a school he spent 16 years at hasn't completely hit him yet. Smith left Grace to become the athletic director at Gorman in 2012 and took over for coach Katie Robertson at the start of this season.

"It's a different feeling than I've ever had before, knowing so many great people at Grace," Smith said. "(Welch has) become a great head coach. Obviously, spending eight years with her were fantastic.

"She's done a great job. I look forward to competing against her."

The Lady Crusaders (13-10, 1-3) have dominated the Lady Cougars (20-14, 3-2) and the TAPPS 2-4A district in recent years.

After the graduation of a standout senior class that included 2013 All-East Texas MVP Michelle Obach, Gorman saw its 44-game district win streak snapped in the league opener on Jan. 7.

Now Grace is looking for its first win over Gorman five years.

The Lady Cougars will look to players such as Megan Raborar, Taylor Kingsley and sophomore Parker Daughtry while the Lady Crusaders have relied on the scoring of senior Brooke Lee, who averages 18.1 points, 5.0 assists and 3.2 steals per game.

Given their time together, Welch and Smith will undoubtedly run a few of the same plays.

"He knows a lot about Grace and I know a lot about Gorman, but since being there without him I've changed a lot," Welch said.

Added Smith: "There are probably a lot of plays that we changed names of this week."

The game will have large consequences on how the district race shapes up. The Lady Cougars are in fourth while the Lady Crusaders are tied for sixth. The regular-season seeds are used for the postseason tournament the week of Feb. 11-15, with the final two days held in Corsicana. From there, the top five teams reach the postseason.

"This is a huge game for both of us to be able to advance to the playoffs," Smith said.

In the boys game, the Cougars (21-4, 4-1) are coming in off their first league loss, a 64-49 setback to Dallas Parish Episcopal, the lone remaining unbeaten in TAPPS 2-4A.

The Crusaders sit right behind Grace at 3-1, tied with All Saints for third, after taking down defending state finalist Dallas Christian 66-65 on Tuesday.

"It's a fun night; it's a great rivalry," Smith said. "Being on both sides of it, it's truly a blessing to have this. A lot of TAPPS schools don't enjoy a rivalry like that.

"We look forward to a packed gym."

 
 

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