Lady Tigers young, but talented

Qualls

A song from the past, part whimsical and part thought provoking pretty well sums up the way things are in the Tahlequah High School girls' program right now. The Lady Tigers had a good season, going 22-4, finally losing out to Stillwater in the Area Tournament. Oh yeah, they were Class 6A then, too.

Then an event happened that totally changed the outlook of girls' basketball in Tahlequah. It wasn't something bad, in fact, it was exactly what was supposed to happen. Kids graduated, five of them to be exact, four of them full-time starters, and the fifth a part-time starter, and overall sixth. Then another opted to focus on her track career, leading Head Coach David Qualls to say that with the loss of those six, 71% of the Lady Tigers' scoring was also lost. Qualls will have to do without Faith Springwater, Smalls Goudeau, Lydia McAlvain, Tatum Havens, and Lily Couch, and Emily Morrison wanted to focus on her track, and actually signed to run track in Conway, Arkansas.

But there's just one thing left to do, and that is to keep on keeping on. That is exactly what Qualls has in mind. One starter, post Cory Rainwater, will be back, anchoring the offense for the Lady Tigers' offense inside, and clogging up the middle on defense.

Qualls said Jadyn Buttery started 9-10 games last year, and saw quite a bit of action. When asked where Buttery played, Qualls said she was pretty much a Swiss Army Knife, she can do about anything. She can bring the ball down, or take it inside, whatever is needed. She is about 5-11, Qualls said, and possesses the ability to mix it up inside or step out and drill the three.

Junior Madi Matthews got her feet wet a little bit last year, and will be counted on to pick up some of the scoring load. Talyn Dick will be playing a lot more this year, and will be handling the ball and directing traffic at the point guard spot. Jersey Retzloff is a junior who will be counted on to take up some of the slack on offense. Paisley Qualls - no relation - missed last year, her sophomore season, due to an ACL injury, so she hasn't played since her freshman year, but she's coming back this year and will definitely be an asset to the Lady Tigers.

Averi Keys is the lone senior on the squad and is a sharpshooter. Qualls said Keys will be able to hit some crucial threes for the Lady Tigers.

He said Rainwater is definitely the vocal leader of the Lady Tigers, and works hard to pull them together.

Traditionally, the Lady Tigers have been a team that gets after it, presses a little bit and plays with pace. Qualls said he didn't see that changing either. He said the Lady Tigers would be able to show a lot of different looks both ways, and keep the opposition from recognizing them quickly. He said hopefully Buttery, Matthews, Dick, Retzloff, Qualls, and Keys can keep the other team's defense busy outside by hitting some threes and opening up the inside for Rainwater.

He said the team's goal offensively this year was to be able to score at all three levels: inside, step outside and knock down the threes, and midrange.

Defensively, Qualls said the Lady Tigers would be more of a 2-3 zone team, although there would be times they would drop into a matchup zone, or a quick trap press. He said they didn't want the other team to get comfortable with one particular defensive scheme, and would try to keep them off balance and guessing.

Qualls said when everyone else on the team is getting nervous at the end of a close game, Buttery is going to be Miss Ice Water. He said there are 3-4 girls who aren't going to be scared about things like that, but Buttery will just take it in stride and play through it, to want the ball when the chips are down.

Qualls said free throws are still a work in progress but are improving. He said the key was getting to the line, putting the other players on the bench, plus getting the Lady Tigers the opportunity to score unchallenged points.

When asked what is the strength and weakness of the Lady Tigers, Qualls said their strength is their togetherness. Oh, yeah, the Lady Tigers drop back down to 5A this year.

"They like each other. They play well together on the court, and then off the court, they hang out together, they eat lunch together, they're friends," he said.

On the down side, Qualls said the Achilles Heel of the Lady Tigers was lack of experience. He said when getting into depth, a lot of young kids were going to be filling that area.

Qualls works individually with the guards, and assistant coach Charles Knifechief works with the post players. But overall, he said they work together and have been together for eight years.

"I think the Lady Tigers are going to be exciting to watch this year," said Qualls.

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