Jeff Cali Sports Editor email@example.com
The Ada High girls basketball team knocked on the Class 4A State Tournament door last season.
But a tough Elgin club knocked them out of the playoffs on the second day of the area tournament.
This year, the Lady Cougars plan on crashing right through the state tournament door and have high hopes of being a state title contender.
Ada finished its first year under new head coach Christie Jennings with a rock-solid 19-9 record. That was all fine and well.
“We felt like last year, we had a pretty good inaugural season with me as their coach,” Jennings said. “We feel like this year, the state tournament is the ultimate goal, and we’re working hard to achieve that. We’re going to be disappointed if we don’t reach that goal.”
Ada has everybody back this year except graduate Kyndel Carter. That includes a group of five experienced seniors — starters Aaliyah Blakley, Sami Jewett, Haley Dean and Meneé Thomsen and key reserve Markeisha Black —who are hungry for more.
Jennings said her team is ready to show fans and the rest of Class 4A what they can do with a year of a new system under their collective belt. In fact, they adopted the motto “Something To Prove” early in the preseason. Expectations for the Ada girls haven’t been this great in a number of seasons.
“Our motto all summer and all preseason was 'Something to prove.' We all wore bracelets that said that,” she said. “There is some pressure on us, but we probably put more pressure on ourselves than anyone else does.”
Jennings said chemistry and confidence will be the biggest keys to Ada’s success during the 2013-14 season.
“We lacked two things last year that I felt like would have pushed us over the top. One is chemistry, and part of that was playing in my system where everything was new. They had chemistry with each other but didn’t have chemistry within the program. That has really improved,” she explained.
“The second thing is mental toughness and confidence,” Jennings continued. “Last year, we were playing a lot of games we didn’t really think we were supposed to win going in. I just couldn’t ever get that out of their heads that they didn’t belong with the Shawnees and Harrahs. I don’t think we’ll have any of those problems this year.”
Jennings has been pleased with all five of her seniors' leadership and improvement during the preseason.
“I couldn’t even tell you which one I think is most improved. Every day I could pick you a different player out of those five,” she said. “We’re really fortunate to have those five girls that have been together, I guess, since junior high.They’re the core of the team, but we also have some young kids that are going to have to play some vital minutes, too.”
Blakley, who is listed at 5-11 but looks every bit of six foot, scored 15.6 points and grabbed over 10 rebounds per game a year ago. Jewett was Ada’s second leading scorers on most occasions, averaging 11.3 points per game. Jennings hopes those averages increase this year but also expects more offensive contributions from Dean and Thomsen, who both averaged under six points a contest.
“Every one of them, through our scrimmage season, has had a game where they just filled it up. And the more weapons we have, the harder it’s going to be to play against us. Offensively, they’ve all got more confident in what they’re doing,” she said.
Another thing that has helped this year’s group of Lady Cougars is the amount of time they’ve spent in the gym. Save a couple of tennis players, Jennings has had nearly everybody else on the team in the gym since last March.
“I’ve never coached a team that’s been in the gym as much as this team has,” she said.
Although the Lady Cougars started off the preseason with a lackluster performance in an early scrimmage or two, Jennings said everything appears to be coming together in time for their 2013-14 season opener against Chandler Dec. 5 at the Oklahoma Baptist University’s Bison Invitational in Shawnee.
“They’ve been full steam ahead over the last two weeks. We feel like with our preseason work and our scrimmage schedule, we’ll be ready to play when Dec. 5 rolls around,” she said.
And the Lady Cougars will still have something to prove.