Anacoco and Hicks ground through a tough district schedule, knowing it would prepare them for the postseason.
The lessons learned in district competition paid off, and the Lady Indians and the Lady Pirates will go head-to-head for the Class B State Championship at 2 p.m. Saturday at Rapides Parish Coliseum in Alexandria.
Hicks is searching for its first state title since 1997, and Anacoco will try to avenge a heartbreaking loss in the final seconds in the last year's championship game.
"I'm really excited," Anacoco head coach Tim Parker said. "We lost five kids off the team from last year – four seniors and one young lady who decided to pursue academics. I thought we had the potential to be pretty good, and when Payton (Miller) came on, she just really made all the difference. She lets some of the pressure off Cally (Hooks) and lets her do her thing. The way they've come together is outstanding."
The last Hicks championship team featured the mothers of current Lady Pirates players – Chloe Wilbanks and Brooklyn Blackwell.
"The community is fired up and the support is phenomenal," Hicks head coach Mike Charrier said. "We have a young team and the involvement is what is driving this thing. We're going to push as hard as we can and see what happens on Saturday.
The Lady Indians have seen the Lady Pirates six times during the season, with the lone Hicks win coming in a preseason jamboree.
Hicks has had a turbulent season, to say the least, as it has dealt with injuries and other off-court ailments. Despite the bumps, Charrier says his team is going to come out of the season better for it.
"They're going to learn life lessons from this journey this year, because they hit adversity," he said. "There were quite a bit of distractions early. We had injuries and illness. They improved and fought hard all year. We've had broken thumbs, ACLs, mono and viruses. We played most of the season with bits and pieces of a team.
"They proved to me this year that it's not about what happens to you, but what you do about it."
Hicks and Anacoco share a lot of similarities, including that they have multiple players that can lead them in scoring.
Anacoco is led by Miller and Hooks with Ellie MacDonald on the perimeter. Its ability to go inside-out, along with its lengthy defense, led the Lady Indians to a No. 2 seed.
The Lady Pirates made it to the state semifinals last season and are now in the big game, despite not having a senior on the team.
Anacoco and Hicks are two teams left standing out of a district that includes No. 12 Pitkin, No. 3 Fairview, No. 16 Hornbeck and No. 19 Elizabeth.
"There are three teams from the same district competing in the state tournament," Charrier said before the Anacoco game. "We're fixing to watch a district game and what we're used to. It's going to be a battle. I just challenged our team. At the end of this week you're going to say one of two things – glad I did or wish I had. Saying wish I had is tough to live with."
Parker is not shocked that is coming down to two schools separated by 26 miles, and Vernon Parish basketball at its best will be on full display Saturday afternoon.
"It's outstanding," Parker said. "I have great respect for Fairview, but I'm not real surprised. I thought if everybody stayed healthy on both of these teams that we would see each other again. It's just a testament to what kind of basketball is being played here right now."