GROVE - High expectations coming into the season have given way to a hot start after the first month of play for the Grove Lady Ridgerunners.
"Since I've been head coach this is by far the best start we've had," head coach Richard Bassett said.
The Lady Ridgerunners, ranked 14th in Class 5A in the latest okrankings.com poll of coaches around the state, are off to a 5-1 start to the 2011-12 season. That includes a championship at the Hilldale Tournament along with blowout wins over Miami and Hilldale.
"I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I've had a lot of these girls since sixth or seventh grade," Bassett said. "We've put some twists in here and there but it's basically been the same things offensively and defensively. The experience that they have and knowing what I want has made a huge difference."
Bassett would also be the first to concede that this is also one of the more talented groups of players he's had at Grove.
"I've got some good kids. I'm not going to sit here and say it's just me. Knowing the program and what I want to do is one thing but secondly having girls that are athletes and can play a little basketball makes a huge difference. The coach is as good as the players he has. Anybody that tells you anything different is crazy. That's just reality."
Injuries are also the reality of sports, and the Lady Ridgerunners will have to deal with a big one in the second half of the season. Junior forward Taylor Dodson will have surgery on a broken finger that will likely keep her out for the rest of the season.
"That's going to be tough," Bassett said. "But she needs to get that fixed. We had a three-headed monster that made it tough for anybody we played. So with her out that's going to be one less athletic person who can make plays. We'll just have to make do. I've still got two of the best post players in the conference besides [Vinita's Caitlyn] Spurgeon. I think my two are as good as there is. We're still going to be fine."
Those other two post players are sophomore Mason Jeffries and senior Kat Johnson, who dominated the paint during the month of December. Bassett will also be looking for more production from bench players Morgan Knox and Libby Morris.
"[Libby] can step in and play that high post. She's athletic and can beat you off the dribble. She can do some of the things that Taylor did."
Bassett will also be looking for more scoring from his guards. So far this season, the Lady Ridgerunners have gotten some production from their outside shooters, but they will need more if they want to continue winning.
"We're a lot better as far as taking care of the ball, but I'm going to have to see a lot more scoring from the perimeter," Bassett said. "They need to knock down more shots especially as defenses collapse inside.
"But that's what's exciting. If we can continue to get our guard play better, that's going to be huge. If we can hit perimeter shots and my post play can continue what's it been doing, we'll be a pretty good team."
They'll have to be good, with games against county rival Jay coming up, as well as the NEO Tournament in Miami and a rematch with Vinita.
Ironically, it was the Lady Ridgerunners' 48-46 overtime loss to the Lady Hornets on December 16 that seems to have gotten the attention of coaches around the state. The Grove girls moved up eight spots in the rankings after that game.
But for Bassett and the Lady Ridgerunners the goal remains to win that first playoff game and advance at least to the area consolation round, something they have yet to do in Class 5A.
"If you can do that, anything can happen," Bassett said. "The good teams are consistent. You can't just win five or six games and call yourselves good. Trust me, we still have a lot of work to do."