There will be a good deal of momentum for Tahlequah as it exits the holiday break and resumes play on Tuesday, Jan. 7, facing Coweta in a Metro Lakes Conference contest at the Tahlequah Multipurpose Activity Center.
The Lady Tigers, 4-2 and ranked 13th in Class 5A under head coach David Qualls, recorded their biggest win of the season on the road against previously eighth-ranked Pryor, 42-29, on Dec. 17, and it capped a three-game win streak to close first semester play.
Prior to defeating Pryor, Tahlequah defeated Sallisaw and Muskogee on consecutive days to end the Cherokee Nation Businesses Tahlequah Invitational after starting with a 45-43 loss to No. 8 McAlester.
"We finished really strong to go get that win at Pryor, and Pryor traditionally has been a really good team in 5A," said Qualls, whose team is 2-1 in the Metro Lakes Conference. "To go up there and win it without Faith (Spring-
water) kinda shows the character of our team and our next-person-up mentality. We played a really good defensive game and just did what we had to do offensively to win the game.
"It was a good way to go into the break, now we've got a tough one coming out next week against Coweta. That'll be a big one for us against basically the same Coweta team we've seen the last couple of years."
Qualls' group has leaned on its defense and shooting, especially its 3-point shooting through the first six games. As a team, the Lady Tigers are shooting just over 41 percent from behind the arc and 44.8 percent overall.
Faith Springwater, Kynli Heist and Lydia McAlvain have been the primary long-distance threats. Springwater has knocked down 10 of her 13 attempts (76.9 percent), Heist follows at 58 percent on 10 makes, and McAlvain is 8 of 18 (44.4 percent).
"We're shooting the ball really well right now," Qualls said. "During our tournament we hit 25 3s and we hit seven at Pryor. It's not just one person, it's everybody. It's Kynli, Lydia, Faith, and Kacey's starting to shoot the ball well."
Guard Kacey Fishinghawk, considered Tahlequah's top perimeter shooter, broke out of a slump with 11 first-half points in the win over Muskogee. Fishinghawk, who is shooting 14.8 percent from 3-point territory, had three of her four 3s against the Lady Roughers.
Senior forward Kloe Bowin, a Rogers State University signee, leads the team in scoring at 11.8 points and is shooting a team-best 65 percent overall from the floor. Bowin, who is also shooting 86.4 percent from the foul line (19 of 22), is averaging 6.2 rebounds and leads Tahlequah with 14 blocked shots.
Springwater is also averaging in double figures with 10.6 points and is pulling down 6.2 rebounds. Springwater, out with the flu against Pryor, started to pick up steam in the CNB Tahlequah Invitational where she averaged 14.6 points and canned nine 3s over the three days.
"It was tough [not having her against Pryor] because Faith had just an unbelievable tournament, our tournament. She shot the ball over 70 percent and was unreal. She played so well, so it was big losing her for what she brings on the floor with her leadership, rebounding and also that instant offense."
A glaring issue has been turnovers. The Lady Tigers have committed 112 of them compared to 63 assists. In the two losses, they're averaging 23 turnovers per game.
Another area Qualls is trying to get solidified is his team's depth. Guards Lily Couch and Naida Rodriguez, and forward Logan Ross have been the primary players off the bench.
"We have to cut down the turnovers," Qualls said. "If you cut those in half and continue to shoot the way we are we're probably 6-0 right now.
"This is an interesting team and it's one we're still trying to figure out. The balance is good, the perimeter shooting is good, the defense is good, and the inside play with Kloe is good. Our downfall right now is the turnovers and not being able to take care of the ball. One thing we are trying to develop is our bench and our depth."
Coweta, who started the season ranked second in 5A and the expected frontrunner of the conference, has yet to find its way. The Lady Tigers are 3-6 overall and 2-1 inside the conference. They have fallen to 11th in the rankings and are coming off three straight losses to Muldrow, Kellyville and Tulsa Will Rogers at the Tournament of Champions in Tulsa last week.
Led by guards Madison Wheat and Linda Brice, Coweta has posted conference wins over Skiatook and Glenpool, while suffering a 60-56 double overtime loss to 4A No. 10 Grove in its season opener.