RED ROCK — For years, Frontier was known as a basketball school. A BOYS basketball school.

The Mustangs won three state titles in four years between 1996 and 1999 under longtime coach Bob Weckstein. Meanwhile, the girls program, though competitive, remained in the shadow of the boys’ success.

But in 2001, Clay Stephens took over as head coach of the Lady Mustangs, and when freshman point guard Jenna Plumley arrived on the scene the following year, the pair instantly made Frontier basketball equal opportunity.

Plumley scored 18 points per game in leading the Lady Mustangs to a state title as a freshman in 2002-2003, then, after a runner-up finish the next year, she averaged 22.3 points per contest as Frontier earned another gold ball last season. 

Despite a new supporting cast around Plumley, the Lady Mustangs opened the 2005-2006 campaign as Class A’s top-ranked team, and they will be one of the favorites when play begins Wednesday in the 29th Bertha Frank Teague Mid-America Basketball Tournament at ECU’s Kerr Activities Center.

Frontier lost three starters off last year’s 28-2 championship team, but Plumley, 5-11 senior Jordan Gardner (10.4 points per game last season) and 5-5 senior Amber Swan (15.1 points per game off the bench a year ago) give Stephens a solid foundation for another title run.

“Jenna is really good, and she has basketball savvy,” Stephens said of Plumley, a 5-3 dynamo who has averaged more than 20 points per game in her first three varsity campaigns and is one of the state’s most exciting players at any level.  “She could score a lot more points than she does, but she can get the ball to the open people.

“Her ability allows us to do things differently than a lot of teams, and her basketball sense is what sets her apart,” he added.  “She could score 30 or 35 points every night, but she’s willing to pass the ball and get everybody involved.”

Gardner, who, like Plumley has started since she was a freshman, is easily Frontier’s tallest player, while Swan is starting this season for the first time and has the versatility to defend opposing guards and play the post at the offensive end of the floor.

“It sounds kind of strange, but it works,” Stephens said of Swan’s role.  “She’s a good offensive rebounder, she’s quick, and she jumps really well, and she can catch the ball and get to the basket.”

Sophomore Julia Moore and senior Elsie Whitehorn share time at forward (“There’s not much difference in the two of them; they’re not asked to score a lot”), and junior Sharon Forte (“She gives us quickness on defense, and offensively she rebounds well”) has replaced senior Janell Reed at the other forward spot.

Stephens said his team has a chance to make a fourth straight state tournament appearance, but he added that he still has a lot of work to do before the Lady Mustangs are ready to challenge for another gold ball in March.

“We’re different,” Stephens admitted. “Right now we’re not quite as hard-nosed as we were last year. I think we’re still trying to find ourselves.

“Everyone is trying to figure out their roles,” he added. “Last year, our starters had all played as juniors, and they had two years together.  We have a lot of people in new positions this year.”

Frontier (7-2) has already lost as many games this year as in all of last season, but the two losses were to a pair of 3A schools, Sequoyah and Alva. 

“They both had good games to beat us,” Stephens noted.  “I would put our schedule for Class A up against anybody.  We play alot of 3A teams.”

Frontier will make its first Mid-America appearance next week, facing Elgin (No. 3 in 3A) Wednesday in the marquee match-up of the tournament’s first day, and Stephens said he is looking forward to seeing some of Oklahoma’s best girls basketball teams first-hand.

“Not having been in the Mid-America before, I’m not sure what to expect, but I’m looking forward to having the chance to play some good teams,” he noted. “I’m one of those coaches who would rather play teams from larger classes. We might not win every game, but it’s better than playing a softer schedule and winning every time.

“We’re going to use (the Mid-America) to continue to figure out where we are and what we need to work on,” Stephens added. 

In Elgin, the Lady Mustangs will face a team that was among the best in Class 3A despite being very young, but the Lady Owls have probably over-achieved this season after losing head coach Rick Wilson and one of their top scorers from last season.

“These (Elgin) girls know how to play, and I think they probably have a little more freedom to play than when Coach Wilson was there,” Stephens said.