By BEN JOHNSON
Tahlequah lived a charmed life during the 2012-2013 season. The Lady Tigers cleared nearly every hurdle in front of them until Carl Albert proved to be too much in the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
First, there was Desiree Phipps, who went down early in the season with a foot/ankle injury. Second, there was Jhonette Cookson’s abrupt dismissal in January. Finally — as if the first two weren’t enough — leading scorer Randee O’Donnell went down with a lower leg injury in the first round of the playoffs, and she missed the rest of the season.
No sweat. Tahlequah turned to the likes of Marisa Girdner, Whitney Wright and Casey Beaston to pick up a state tournament berth.
But all that is in the past now, and first-year coach Johnny Dyson knows his team this season will have its own collection of hardships to overcome.
“Each season is different and there will be a different set of obstacles for us to overcome this season,” said Dyson, who took over for Chad Walker. “Last year ended well. The road to state lined up well, and we did what we needed to do to reach the tournament.”
Dyson will attempt to get Tahlequah back to the state tournament, but he’ll do so without Beaston, Paige Carnes and three-point specialists, Maegan Blevins and Alissa Hadley. He will, however, still have the services of Girdner and Wright during their senior seasons.
“Contributors this season will be our senior duo of Girdner and Wright,” Dyson said. “Sophomore Lindsay Wade will also be a major contributor at the guard position. Then we’ll be looking at Reagan Clark to contribute from the post position.”
The biggest void to fill will be the one left by Beaston on the inside. That means rebounding and defending near the rim will fall squarely in the laps of some fresh faces in 2013-2014.
“As far as rebounding and inside scoring goes, it’ll have to be a group effort,” Dyson said. “Whitney Wright, Reagan Clark, Gillian Tinnin and Cailey Cunningham will all have to step in and provide these things.”
As for expectations following a 17-10 campaign last season, Dyson he’s going to set forth a basic guideline: just keep improving.
“My expectations are simple, we just want to get better as the season progresses,” he said. “If we can that then come February we should have set ourselves up to make a run again. I expect there to be possible bumps in the road during the first part of the season as a transition period, but I fully expect us to position ourselves properly for a playoff run.”
Tahlequah basketball storylines
- Can Tahlequah repeat last season’s success? The stars aligned for the Tahlequah girls to make a run at the state tournament last season. Most teams in the Metro Lakes Conference were inferior, and the biggest challenge prior to reaching the state tournament was a feisty Chickasha team that couldn’t match Tahlequah’s offensive output. This year, though, the Metro Lakes Conference competition is likely to improve, and Tahlequah is under new leadership with coach Johnny Dyson.
- How much will Randee O’Donnell’s absence hurt? O’Donnell had been a key offensive contributor every since her freshman season, but she will not play during her senior campaign after signing a softball letter of intent with Oklahoma State. Instead, she’ll be watching games, so the offensive absence will have to be addressed by Marisa Girdner, Whitney Wright and Lindsay Wade.
Key core back for Tigers this season
Tahlequah returns the key contributors from last year’s team that labored to an 8-16 season. Jake Vader, Kourt McMillan, Dalton Cunningham, David Dick and Will Carlile will all be back in orange and black.
However, it’s who is not going to join them that’s going to a key absence. Point guard Lain Wright graduated and will have to turn the reigns over to someone else.
“You don’t really replace Lain Wright,” said Pat Dotson, who is set to begin his first year as the Tigers’ coach. “He was a pretty special player that you don’t see every year.”
Luckily for Dotson, he said he has plenty of qualified candidates.
“The position is a key fill for our line up and fortunately we have a number of possibilities,” he said. “Presently Damon Proctor, Colby Presley, Will Carlile and Clint Kelley are in the hunt. Good competitive position group that is beginning to settle out.”
Hoping to take some of the scoring pressure off the point guard spot will be Vader and Cunningham. Although, Carlile could provide some scoring of his own as the floor general.
“Vader has been out front since May, exhibiting good maturity and leadership,” Dotson said. “Two guys who can change a season are Dalton and Will. A very efficient pair of returning starters who are getting into good early season form.”
Dotson also tossed out some names of sophomores that could log meaningful minutes during the 2013-2014 campaign, which begins Dec. 3 at Coweta.
“The sophomores are a very competitive group coming off an excellent offseason,” Dotson said. “There are a number of individuals in the class who could impact the varsity season as they continue to develop. Alex Paris, Dante McDowell and Keith Washington have already been giving good minutes off the bench. Coleman Craig, Britt Dobbins, Tyler Miller and Kris Washington are hard-working guys who just keep improving. It’s a good class.”