DOVER — Dover is back in the Bertha Frank Teague Mid-America Girls Basketball Tournament. That’s bad news for every other team in Class B.

The Lady Longhorns have made two previous Mid-America appearances in this decade (2001 and 2002), and they followed each of those December visits  to Ada with state championships the following March.  This season, Dover — winner of four of the last five Class B titles and ranked No. 1 again — will be one of the favorites in an outstanding field of eight when the 29th edition of Oklahoma’s most prestigious regular-season girls tournament begins a three-day run Wednesday.

“Every year I’ve come down there we’ve won state,” said Brad Thrash, who took over the Dover girls a decade ago and has transformed a program that had hit rock-bottom into one of the most successful in Oklahoma. “I wanted to come down there last year, but we had a conflict with another tournament.”

Dover defeated Class 6A power Jenks in the first round of the 2001 Mid-America en route to being the tournament runner-up that year, and the Lady Horns finished third in 2002, losing to Anadarko in the semis but defeating Tushka and Clinton. 

This year, Thrash and his team will have to wade through the tougher half of the bracket, facing Byng in the final opening-round game Wednesday and, if they can beat the Lady Pirates, advancing to a probable semifinal match-up with undefeated top seed Mustang (No. 2 in Class 6A) Thursday. 

“Mustang is definitely the favorite,” Thrash admitted. “It will be an upset if somebody beats them.”

If the Lady Longhorns face the Lady Broncos Thursday, their task will be made even tougher by the loss of 5-8 senior Morgan Hoover to an injury. 

“Mustang (which has five players who are 5-9 or taller in its top eight and starts six-footers Lucy and Lacy Ramon) will be a horrible match-up for us,” Thrash said. “We can’t match up with them at all. With Hoover we had a chance; without her, we get really small.”

Despite Mustang’s size advantage, Thrash said he would welcome the challenge of playing arguably the state’s best team in any class.

“I expect Mustang to be awfully good, but I’d like a chance to play them,” he noted.  “We’re not going to be intimidated.  My girls aren’t scared of anybody.

“We have hard match-ups because we’re small, but teams have a tough time with us because of our quickness,” Thrash added.  “These girls find a way to win.”

Dover — coming off a 29-2 state championship season and a winner of 148 of 155 games overall and a remarkable 14-1 in the state tournament over the past five years — is 14-0 this season, despite losing all-staters Veronica Valles (now a freshman point guard at ECU) and Nicky Walls to graduation and losing Hoover to a torn ACL. 

The Lady Longhorns are led by 5-10 senior Jody Munkres and 5-7 junior Krista Bullis (who both average about 18.5 points per game), and they have a strong bench that enables Thrash to maintain the frenetic pace that has become Dover’s trademark during its remarkable 21st-century run.

“We push it up and down the floor and try to play at a little faster tempo than other teams,” Thrash explained.  “We usually go eight or nine-deep so we have girls who can step in.”

In Byng, Dover will face a team that has struggled recently after a 3-0 start and will come into the Mid-America 5-4 after a last-second loss to Tishomingo Tuesday night.  “I don’t know very much about them,” Thrash said of the Lady Pirates, who were 23-7 last season and came within a game of the Class 4A state tournament.  “I got one film on them.  It looks like they’re pretty athletic, and it looks like they have one girl who likes to shoot the three.

“I think Frontier (No. 1 in Class A and the tournament’s No. 2 seed) will win their side of the bracket, and I’d like to play them,” he added.  “We’re going to have to have a good game to get by Byng and a sensational game to beat Mustang, but it could happen.” 

Thrash inherited a program in shambles when he moved to Dover 11 seasons ago, but it took only a few seasons before the Lady Longhorns reached respectability and a couple more before they were among the state’s elite girls teams.

“The first year I was here, we didn’t win a game,” Thrash recalled.  “We just gradually improved every year.”

Dover won nine games in Thrash’s second season and 19 in his third, and in his fourth season the Lady Longhorns won 23 games and went to the area finals, where they lost to eventual state runner-up Cheyenne.  The following year, Dover won its first state title, and the rest is history. 

“They’ve left me alone here and let me do my job,” Thrash said in explaining his program’s remarkable rise.  “I’ve been able to put my program in solid, and I’ve had girls who bought into what we were trying to do.”

Thrash said the Mid-America is not only a chance to see some of the state’s top girls teams close-up but added that the tournament can also provide a barometer for his team’s progress heading into the 2006 portion of the season.

“It’s a fun time,” he said.  “I’ve always found that if your team is going along pretty good and you can give them a loss midway through the year it helps them re-focus.

“We’ve played a pretty good schedule so far, but we’ll come down there and have to play at a different level,” Thrash added.  “Of course, if you go there (to the Mid-America) and play well you can still lose three games.”