Cache girls basketball coach Brett Sanders obviously isn’t a guy who likes to stand pat.
In Sanders’ first season as their head coach, the Lady Bulldogs went undefeated and claimed their school’s first-ever state title. With four starters back, Sanders could have been expected to simply turn his veteran squad loose on the competition again this season, then stand back and count the victories.
Instead, he decided to fix what didn’t appear to be broken. And, although the Lady Bulldogs — No. 1 in Class 4A and the top seed for the 2010 Bertha Frank Teague Mid-America Classic later this month — have suffered two more losses in their first five games than they did all of last season, Sanders expects his methods to pay dividends down the road
“Right now, we’re not as in sync as we were last year,” Sanders explained. “I think they’re all better ball players, but I don’t think our team chemistry is where it needs to be. Ninety percent of that is my fault because of the way I’ve been handling my practices.
“I’ve worked more on individual skills than I have on team situations,” he added. “I’ve been trying to make them better ball players and I’ll get started in January trying to work on the team things.”
Sanders said he wasn’t sold on the idea of coming to the Mid-America (which begins a three-day run at the Kerr Activities Center on Monday, Dec. 27), but he said his players wanted to make the trip.
“We voted last year whether or not they wanted to come to the Mid-America, and they definitely wanted to come to it,” recalled Sanders, whose club will meet Wellston in the last of four games on the tournament’s opening day. “I was in it three times while I was (head coach) at Anadarko. We got runner-up twice and won one game the other year.
“I’m not a big fan of holiday tournaments,” Sanders added. “I like to split into an early season and a late season, and with a tournament in December, the girls don’t really see a change. All the years we went to (the Mid-America), we made the state tournament, but we never won it. I’m a family man, and we like to do things over the Christmas break. We won’t be able to do that this year.”
Sanders said, however, that the pros of competing at Oklahoma’s oldest girls basketball tournament could outweigh the cons.
“I love the (Mid-America) — there’s not a better run tournament in the state,” he said. “It’s always a blessing to go up there. The people are great, and it’s so organized. It’s nice to see that kind of organization. They make it special for teams to come to it.
“Right now, I’ve got girls who want competition, and I don’t know if it was like that with my teams in the past,” he noted. “I had overachievers when I was at Anadarko, and now I’ve got good ballplayers. I’m hoping the (Mid-America) makes us a better team and will give us a boost of confidence after getting beat (twice at the Edmond Open Tournament last week).”
Sanders took the blame for the first two losses by the Cache girls — to Class 6A No. 3 Edmond North and 5A No. 3 Bishop McGuinness on consecutive nights by identical 62-59 scores — on his watch, adding that the Lady Bulldogs did some uncharacteristic things in both games.
“We didn’t play well,” he recalled. “We ended up getting beat at the buzzer by Edmond North. It was a good game and we played okay, but they shot 29 free throws and we shot nine. We usually pride ourselves on shooting more free throws than our opponents.
“The next night against McGuinness, I didn’t have them ready to play,” Sanders said. “We got down 16, came back to get the lead at the end, and (the Lady Chargers) scored two buckets in the final 12 seconds to beat us.”
Cache’s senior-dominated lineup is led by 5-10 center Honor Duvall, who averaged 19 points and eight rebounds per game to key last year’s state title run.
“She’s real physical,” Sanders said of Duvall. “She plays like she’s 6-3.”
Sanders’ daughter, Bretlin, is the team’s point guard. The 5-7 senior averaged 10 points and almost eight rebounds per contest last season and figures to be part of another bumper crop of talent at her position at this year’s Mid-America.
“She does a pretty good job,” Sanders said of his daughter. “She handles situations very well.”
Lindsey Carter — who, along with Duvall, started as a sophomore on the young Cache squad that that was runner-up to Tulsa Union in the 2008 Mid-America (under former coach Kenny White) — averaged 13 points per game as a junior. She joins Bretlin Sanders to give the Lady Bulldogs a backcourt that should match up well with that of any team on their schedule.
“She’s a tremdous 3-point shooter,” Sanders said of the 5-6 Carter.
While Duvall, Sanders and Carter supply a big chunk of the Cache offense, 5-7 senior forward Jennifer Rosado is the team’s defensive leader.
“In my opinion, she is about the best defensive player in the state,” Brett Sanders said.
Cassadie Holybee — a standout at Walters last season who had three solid games for the Lady Devils at the 2009 Mid-America — aggravated an old knee injury earlier this season and won’t be available until sometime in 2011. Four different girls have started in Holybee’s spot early in the season, with six-foot junior Shayla Whitebird (“a good rebounder who can score underneath”) and 5-4 Kaitlynn Martine (“she gives us another shooting guard”) seeing the most playing time.
“It’s going to be a competitive tournament, and we need competitive games,” Sanders explained. “I’m excited for the girls to play in it, just to see where we are compared to two weeks earlier. “That tournament at Edmond was a tough tournament,” he added. “I’m anxious to see if we come out with a little better chemistry coming to the Mid-America. I know the field. It’s just who’s playing ball that night.”