The Grove Ridgerunners and Lady Red basketball squads open their 2008-09 season this evening at the Tahlequah Invitational. The boys’ team will face Poteau at the THS gymnasium at 5:20 with the girls contest against the Lady Pirates to follow.
Both GHS teams begin the new campaign with a change in the head coach position.
Lady Red Head Coach Richard Bassett begins his first season at helm after assisting for the previous two tours. Bassett was the girls head coach at Picher for 10 years prior to his arrival in Grove.
Doug Winters will assume the head coaching duties for the Ridgerunners. Winters was previously the head coach at Sperry.
It’s been a long fall for the Lady Red troops.
“We’ve been practicing since October 1st and, honestly, we’re getting tired of practicing; we want to start playing,” Bassett said.
The long hours of practice have made some noticeable improvements in the team.
“From what we started out with at the beginning of summer to where we’ve come through our scrimmages and to where we are right now we’ve made some improvements,” Bassett said. “Just the last couple of scrimmages I could see that we were taking better care of the ball, getting better shots, and playing smarter defense.”
A strong defensive approach is something that the coach has instilled in the team.
“If you can’t play good defense you aren’t going to compete,” said Bassett.
Along with the defensive drills the team has also been working at improving their shot making.
“We’ve been working a lot on our shooting,” Bassett said. “When I came here the girls didn’t have confidence and didn’t shoot well and didn’t have enough reps. The first 30 to 40 minutes of our practices have been shooting and I can see some improvements there, our shooting is getting better.”
The Lady Red offense will center around senior post Margaret Pogue.
“We’re going to go through her to make our offense work,” Bassett said.
Returning players Peri Lane, a junior, and Stacia Sarwinksi, a senior, will also play key roles with the team.
“Peri is going to be our point guard,” Bassett said. “She’s gotten a lot better over the summer. She’s taking better care of the ball and making better decisions.
“I don’t know if you could find anyone to out-hustle Stacia. She’ll out-work anybody. I’d put her up against anybody as far her out-working somebody,” Bassett said.
The starting line up will be rounded out by juniors Logan Cook and Kelsey Kerr, both returning starters from last season. Junior Rachel Allington will be the sixth player.
“We were 3-21 last year so we’ve only got one direction to go,” said Bassett. “They’re working so hard. Anything I ask they do as hard as they can do it. Experience and getting better at little things we’ll get us over the edge on some of these games.”
While the Lady Red have been working together as a unit since October the Ridgerunners will have had less than one week together before their season opener tonight owing to the extended football season. That, combined with a new head coach and a new plan of attack, could mean that the boys’ team will take some time to show its full capabilities.
“It’s been challenging. I feel like I’m four to five weeks behind the other schools,” Winters said.
“It’s a good thing and a bad thing,” said Winters of the late start. “You want to see your kids succeed and you want to see your school succeed (during football season.) If this was my third or fourth year here it wouldn’t be a big deal. But I’m new and we have a new offense, defense, and terminology. I don’t know the players and they don’t know me and I’ve got to play in a week. So, we’re gonna have to learn on the fly and everybody is going to need some patience.”
Another early concern for the squad is conditioning.
“We’ve got to get everybody into basketball shape,” said Winters. “The eight or nine kids who were here through the winter have been working very hard. But, six of our top ten guys are football players.”
The team has taken measures to compensate for their situation.
“I tried to keep some of the old plays so that we wouldn’t be so far behind,” said Winters. “But I want to work my plays in also.”
Despite the current challenges the coach sees a silver lining developing as the winter-season players begin to gel with the returning players fresh off of football season.
“Ryan Miller is pretty solid and Tyler Spychalski ran the point for me all summer during camp,” Winters said. “Josh Harjo and Jack Johnson have done a very good job.
“Everybody has worked hard but we’re not there yet,” Winters said. “But we’ll overcome.
“Hopefully we’ll be peaking late (during playoffs) since we’re starting so late.”