By BOB FORREST
KIOWA — At 12-0, The Kiowa Cowgirls haven’t hit too many bumps on their road to this week’s Bertha Frank Teague Mid-America Classic. In Class A No. 1 Preston, though, Kiowa coach Wade Daniels sees a major pothole for his veteran team.
“From everything I’ve heard, Preston just tries to outscore you, and that concerns us a little bit,” Daniels — whose club is ranked No. 1 in Class B — said of his first-round Mid-America opponent. “We’re more offensive-minded, too, but not to that degree. They just apply relentless pressure. Some people can’t go with that flow. We’re just going to do the best we can.
“It’s going to be physically tough, but it might be a mental aspect too — whether or not we can control the tempo,” he added. “It’s Preston’s speed and athleticism that worries us.”
Daniels sees Thursday’s 8 p.m. battle with Preston (7-0) as just the first major test in what could be his team’s toughest week of the season. He said having been the busiest team in the field heading into the tournament should be an advantage, adding that no matter how many wins the Cowgirls manage during their three days in Ada, they should leave town a better team than when they arrived.
“It helps to have played 12 games,” he noted. “The competition will be tougher this week, but that’s one reason we want to be there. I think it will pay off later in the season.
“It’s kind of like a booster shot,” added Daniels, who is in his 15th year at Kiowa and has seen his current team average about 70 points and surrender about 39 points per contest. “It might hurt a little bit, but I have to think it will do nothing but make us better no matter how we do.”
Kiowa has four senior starters back from a squad that reached the Class B semifinals in March for the second straight year, and Daniels said everybody on his roster has already contributed to the team’s fast start this season.
“We only have 10 girls, and we’ve used all of them at one time or another this season,” he explained. “I think this tournament will be good for us. It should help us grow a little bit.
“They’re a great bunch of kids to be around,” he added. “They like to spend time together. They have one goal, and that’s to get to the state tournament again this year.”
Kiowa will have one of the top individual players at this year’s Mid-America in senior guard Katie Clift, who is averaging “in the mid-20s” in scoring and is part of a balanced attack.
“The last two years, we had five girls (average) in double figures,” he said. “We’re close to that this year, and we actually have six or seven who can score in double figures.
“Katie is a terrific ball handler and quite a scorer,” Daniels said of Clift, who teams with senior Andrea Smith (who averaged 17 points per game as a junior) to give the Cowgirls the highest-scoring duo of any team in the tournament. “She has long range. She and Andrea make a really good 1-2 punch. They’ve played together their whole life, and they read each other well.”
In addition to his high-powered backcourt, Daniels also has a strong, physical front line that includes senior Kyla Adams, 5-8 junior forward Brittany Smith and 5-11 sophomore center Chelsie Kinsey. He said he has also gotten good production this year out of junior Krista Lewis and senior Betty Buff.
“Kyla is just now getting into the flow, and she’s really helped us,” Daniels said of Adams, a move-in from McAlester. “Betty has stepped up and started to score, and Krista is a great role player. She can score, but she doesn’t have to.”
“Brittany and Chelsie are getting a lot of playing time, and they’re getting better every game,” he added. “We try to get all seven girls in the mix.”
This year’s team is only the second Kiowa representative to the Mid-America and the first since 1982. Daniels said he prepared for this week by scrimmaging 4A No. 1 Fort Gibson, 3A No. 1 Sequoyah-Tahlequah, 5A No. 2 Coweta and 6A Norman High “just trying to mimic that level of competition”.
“I don’t know if it will help, but I have to think it will help us go up a level,” he explained. “Class B is getting pretty tough, and playing in this tournament has to help us later in the season.
“It’s an honor just to be invited — an honor that doesn’t come around very often,” Daniels said.
By BOB FORREST