Shawnee and defending champion Anadarko might be two of the four unbeaten squads in the field for the 2010 Bertha Frank Teague Mid-America Classic, but the Lady Wolves and the Lady Warriors are teams in transition heading into their marquee match-up in Monday’s tournament opener.
Anadarko (3-0 and ranked No. 6 in 4A) lost four starters off the team that finished 23-5 and reached the 4A quarterfinals last season; Shawnee, meanwhile, dropped from Class 6A to 5A after a solid 18-8 campaign a season ago and added one of the state’s most high-profile move-ins over the summer.
“We lost some good kids, but we had some really good ones coming back,” said Weeks, who replaced longtime Anadarko coach Brett Sanders (now the coach of Mid-America top seed Cache) before the 2009-2010 season. “Kati Sullivan (a 5-7 junior who averaged six points per game as a sophomore) injured her knee last Tuesday, and that hurts us pretty bad. Other kids are going to play, but they’re going to have more extensive roles and they’re going to have to step up.”
Size in the post was the only thing missing for Shawnee coach Wendi Wells a year ago, and that void was filled nicely when 6-2 Caitlyn Ramirez moved from Moss to join an already talented lineup. The addition of Ramirez coupled with the drop in class had the Lady Wolves at No. 3 in Class 5A when the season began, and four straight victories to open the campaign hasn’t hurt their standing with the 5A coaches.
“She’s been doing great,” Wells said of Ramirez, who is averaging a double-double through four games. “She’s surprised me — I thought it would take her awhile to get used to the physicality of (a 5A schedule), but she’s come in and she’s gotten after it. We run a different system than she’s used to, but she asks questions and she’s really been a pleasant surprise for us.
“Offensively she gives you so much — you can post her inside, and she can finish on either side with either hand. If you double-team her, she can step out, she can shoot a 3-pointer and she can shoot free throws. She’s a junior, so she’s only going to get better.”
Weeks returned just one starter — senior Jalen Tiger — off the team that cruised to the 2009 Mid-America title, but he has meshed Tiger with two of his top subs from last season — sophomore guard Lakota Beatty and junior center McKenzie Schumpert — and newcomers Raven Ware, Lorri Osceola and Stacey Thornhill to form a club with a much different make-up than his first Anadarko squad.
“We’re a little bit longer than we were last year,” Weeks explained. “It’s hard to know when you’ve played three ballgame what you’re going to do. I don’t think we’re near as quick as we have been.”
Tiger has done a solid job as the Lady Warriors’ point guard, scoring about nine points a game and passing the ball to Beatty, Schumpert and the team’s other scorers.
“Jalen always looks to distribute the ball more than score,” Weeks noted. “She had 20 assists in our first two games, and she scored 19 against Clinton after Kati got hurt. Hopefully she can carry that over.”
Beatty was an all-tournament selection at her first Mid-America a year ago, and she enters this year’s tournament as Anadarko’s leading scorer at over 14 points per game.
“A lot of things run through her,” Weeks said of Beatty. “She plays wherever I need her to be to get the ball.”
Weeks said the 5-10 Schumpert — a valuable player off the bench last season — is still adjusting to her role as a starter but, because of Anadarko’s experience in the backcourt, has an opportunity to be a big factor in the offense this season.
“She just has to be available and ready for the ball, because we have some guards who will get it to her,” Weeks said of Schumpert, who is averaging about eight points per game.
Anadarko’s other two new starters are junior Raven Ware, an undersized 5-5 forward, and senior guard Lorri Osceola.
“(Ware) is really strong and physical and deceptively quick,” Weeks said. “She’s basketball smart, and she takes good angles when she’s facing somebody quicker than her. She’s good at boxing out and taking advantage of any opportunities she might get.
“(Osceola) played a lot as a sophomore, then she didn’t play last year,” he said. “We need to her to step up as a leader this year.”
The Anadarko bench is led by 5-9 junior post player Stacey Thornhill, who has scored in double figures in two of the team’s first three games and had eight points in the other.
Weeks admitted that his club — the pre-tournament favorite in 2009 but a darkhorse this year despite its 3-0 record — faces a tough challenge this week in a field loaded with teams expected to contend for state titles in their respective classes.
“I like being a favorite because it means you’re pretty dang good,” Weeks said. “I don’t know if there aren’t three or four state championships in the (Mid-America) field this year. It’s just a positive experience playing in the Mid-America. If you go 0-3 you have to be better team coming out of than you were going into it.
“The thing about these kids is that they expect to win no matter who they’re playing,” he added. “We follow the Mid-America with our own tournament, and we play Cache (No. 1 in 4A) twice during the regular season. A lot of the kids I’m playing now had never played in a varsity game before this season, so it should be good for them.”
Even before Ramirez moved to Shawnee, Wells figured to have one of the top teams in 5A this season. She had one of Oklahoma’s best players in any class in 5-8 junior Kelsee Grovey, a prodigy at point guard in sophomore Mya Tramble, senior leadership in guard Kaylee Allen and forward Taylor Fluke and a solid bench led by 5-10 sophomore Micaela Yu.
“We have a great group of kids, and I’m excited about this team,” Wells said. “Being in 6A last year, they got a lot of the experience that every game, every play was important. They have really learned how to play the entire four quarters. They play hard, and they will get after you.”
Grovey, a 5-8 lefty who can play either guard or forward, averaged 17 points and almost seven rebounds per game as a sophomore. She joins Ramirez to give the Lady Wolves a 1-2 punch to match any in their class.
“Coming into this season, people had (Grovey) as one of the top five players in 5A,” Wells said. “She and Caitlyn are both getting numerous Division I looks right now.
“Kelsey is an extremely strong guard,” she added. “She can post up, she can hit the 3, or she can take you off the dribble — she’s just one of those multi-dimensional guards.”
Wells said that with Ramirez added to the offensive mix, the 5-5 Tramble has been content to be a distributor of the basketball rather than a scorer early in the season.
“Mya is a great player,” Wells noted. “She hasn’t been asked to score a lot for us, but she can score if she needs to. She’s taken to dishing to Caitlyn and Kelsee, but she’s also good from the 3, she’s quick and she can pull up and shoot. Defensively, she will get after the other team’s guards for us.”
Wells said Allen (5-6) has made big strides in all areas of her game as a senior, and she and the 5-8 Fluke give the team “a lot of intangibles.”
“(Allen) has really come along this year,” Wells said. “She worked on her shot this summer, and she’s given us a consistent spot-up shooter. A lot of our stuff centers around our defense, and she’ll get after people.
“Taylor is one of those feisty players,” she said. “She’s not going to score 15 points a game, but she doesn’t care who she’s against in the post. She’s not afraid to get down in there with bigger players. She’s deceptive — she has long arms and gets a lot of blocked shots — and she can also step out and shoot the 15-footer.”
Yu, at 5-10, is the third member of what Wells described as her “three-headed monster” in the post.
“For most teams she would start, but she comes off the bench and gives us another scorer,” Wells explained. “She’s improved so much since last year. She’ll get after it on the boards, and she’s gotten a lot better in her post defense. Offensively she has moves on the inside and she can also step out.”
Wells said she hopes Shawnee’s first-ever appearance at the Mid-America will provide a springboard to a long playoff run.
“We’re really excited about coming to the Mid-America,” said Wells, who played in the tournament in 1995 (in its last year as a 6-on-6 event) while at Fort Cobb-Broxton. “We’ve got some young players but we’ve got players who have been starting since they were freshmen. We’ll use this as an opportunity to get better. We know there are some great teams down there, and we’ll use it as a stepping stone into January and February.
“We do have the opportunity to make a (playoff) run — it depends on how we mature,” she added. “Last year we might have gotten a little bit too comfortable after we beat Carl Albert (in January). I think we peaked a little too early last year and we might have put too much emphasis on every game being a win or a loss. This year we’ve focused on just the next game. We haven’t really even looked at what’s going to happen in January.”
Wells said that “one-game-at-a-time” attitude should keep her team from looking past an Anadarko club that enters the week as one of the Mid-America’s big mysteries.
“From what I hear, they like to get after you and get up and down the floor,” she said of the Lady Warriors. “The Beatty kid is a great player, and they also have some shooters. It should be a great game.
“We can play a little bit of any style” Wells added. “We will slow it down some, but it doesn’t bother us to run. We pick and choose where we run and how we run; the girls are starting to understand when we can run and when we need to slow it down. These kids are starting to pick this stuff up, and they’re fun to watch.”