The 2008-’09 Lady Red basketball season came to a close this past weekend in the 4A regional consolation championship game at Ft Gibson with a 49-26 loss to Wagoner. The single game was a disappointing result for the team and its supporters but measured against the balance of the full season the ’08-’09 campaign was a successful run and bodes well for the future of the program.
In his first year at the helm Lady Red Head Coach Richard Bassett guided a team that was 3-21 a year ago to a 14-12 mark this season. Along the way the troops captured the program’s first-ever NEO Tournament Championship, a runner-up finish at the season-opening Tahlequah Tournament, and victories over a host of top-twenty teams.
“I was honest with the girls; I didn’t think we’d do as well this as we did this year,” Bassett said. “I wasn’t trying to be pessimistic; I’m a realist. I don’t want to sugarcoat things and I want to be upfront with the kids. I didn’t think we’d win this many games. I thought we’d get better but still have some struggles. These girls proved me wrong. They flat-out proved me wrong and I’ll be the first to admit it. They worked hard enough and did the extra things. We matured a lot this year. Most of the games we won were against tough teams. We didn’t have many easy games. I’m very happy about this season. And I enjoyed it.”
Before coming to Grove the veteran coach had overseen numerous winning seasons at Picher but this season with the Lady Red was a different kind of success.
“I told the kids that I had some really good teams at Picher and that was a situation where you were supposed to win and sometimes you could get so miserable worrying about getting beat because you were supposed to win,” Bassett said. “This year when we started winning a little bit I got to enjoy it and the kids enjoyed it. It was a good season.”
The Lady Red had an impressive run in the regional tournament. They began their tour with a 53-42 win over Catoosa at Inola and then defeated 4A top-twenty Locust Grove 40-27 in the semi-finals at Ft Gibson.
“Defensively we shut the Stone (LGHS senior Brittani) girl down,” Bassett said of the Locust Grove win. “For whatever reason the Locust coach had this tall post girl that he kept putting out on the corner and that’s who Margaret (GHS senior Pouge) was supposed to guard. Well, the Locust post wasn’t having any success from the perimeter and so I told Margaret to just stay inside because the Locust coach kept the Stone girl inside and we just doubled teamed her the whole game. We held her to seven points because we kept Kenzie (GHS sophomore Miller) behind her and Margaret in front of her. Stone was probably 80 percent of their scoring this year and so by shutting her down we held them to 27 points.
“We played a really good game defensively and took care of the ball on offense,” Bassett added. “We played a solid game.”
The team’s fortunes dipped in the consolation finals against Wagoner.
“No excuses, they just beat us,” Bassett said. “They kind of out-athleted us. I’m not making excuses, but I think we were pretty tired and we had some kids who were sick over the weekend. But, they beat us. We had a hard time scoring and they didn’t have any trouble scoring. Their defense really made us struggle. No excuses- they played well and we didn’t.”
The end of a playoff run is always a tough time for a team but the coach counseled his troops with a message of re-assurance after the Wagoner game.
“I tried to look at it from a positive point of view,” Bassett said. “This time last year we were already done and had only won three games. We just ended a season with 14 wins.
“The girls have done everything I asked,” Bassett continued. “They’ve been positive on all ends. They’ve played hard. I’ve tried to make it fun. I know that sometimes in games I get onto kids a little bit but I never belittle a kid; it’s always for hustle or for doing things they know better than to do. When it’s all said and done I pat ‘em on the back and support them. That’s what I did after the Wagoner game. I told them, you know what; we got beat. There’s nothing to be upset about. It’s just the way life is. Wagoner played a better game today but we had an outstanding season. We just have to move on and build on it for next year.”
One part of closing out a sports season is saying goodbye to the seniors and this season the Lady Red had three upperclassmen who were leaders in their own unique ways.
Margaret Pogue was a game-time leader and the center-piece of the GHS offensive and defensive attacks.
“She was our offense,” Bassett said. “Somebody else is going to have to fill that role next year. We’re still figuring out the final stats but Margaret probably averaged 12 to 15 points a game. There were a lot of games where she scored in the double digits and rebounded in double digits. She was a big, big part of our team. I wish I could have had her earlier in her career. We wouldn’t have won a lot of our games without her.”
While Pogue provided the leadership at game time, it was senior Stacia Sarwinski who led by example during practice.
“I’d stop practice at times because I’d be frustrated with some of the kids because their effort level wasn’t very good so I’d stop practice and say, ‘You know what girls? If everybody out here put the same kind of effort in as Stacia Sarwinski then we’d be knocking on the door for a state championship,” Bassett said. “She has great hustle and effort.
“I told the girls that they needed to go rub her shoulders and hope some of that hustle and effort would rub off on them. It didn’t matter if it was practice, or if it was a game, or whatever it was, she had one speed and that was it. I have a lot of respect for her because of that,” Bassett said.
Senior Shandi Crossley was the heart and soul of the team. The softball all-star joined the team as a means to stay in shape for her summer softball league and earned a spot on the varsity team. A bone-spur in her foot cut her season short but she stayed on with the team through the end and offered support where she could.
“The girls respected Shandi and she’s a good friend with all of them,” Bassett said. “Shandi’s a good leader. When she was on the practice floor she worked hard and she helped to make sure everybody else worked hard, too. Shandi didn’t have much playing time on varsity but we wouldn’t have had the season we did without her on the team pushing hard in practice.”
The leadership provided by the seniors manifested itself in many ways over the course of the season. One of the biggest areas that the team showed improvement over last season was in the ability to “close the deal” and win close games.
“There were 14 games last year where we went into the fourth quarter trailing by single digits but we couldn’t finish it,” Bassett said. “This year we finished those kinds of games. The girls learned how to close the deal. They learned to get over the top. Did we learn it completely? No, we didn’t. Because there were still some games where we could have finished better. But we made great strides to understand that you have to play four quarters and that there is no let up. You can’t have a quarter where you let up. For the most part the girls did learn that you have to finish games out.”
The turning around of the Lady Red program began this season but it is still a work in progress. The signs for next season point toward more growth and success.
“If you build a program you’ll have kids who come in and fill positions,” Bassett said. “They may not be the same person but they can fill that role. We’ve got kids coming back next year so we should be tough.”
Next season’s team will feature five seniors- Peri Lane, Logan Cook, Rachel Allington, Kaydee Bassett, and Alyssa Ortner- who have been playing basketball together for years and were an important nucleus to the success of this past season.
Coach Bassett sees Kori Watkins, a newcomer to the Lady Red this season who saw many varsity minutes, as a potential headliner for next season.
“I think Kori is going to be a great post for us,” Bassett said. “She’s only a sophomore (this year) so we’ve got two more years with her. She’s very, very athletic. She has no problem with working hard. She’s going to put the time toward it (basketball.) She could be a huge difference to our team.”
Adding to that mix will be Shae Scott, Kenzie Miller, Kelsey Kerr, Katelin Threet, Katie Stout, and Tori Winters; all underclassmen who saw significant varsity minutes this season.
“I expect at least 24 kids on 10-12 and we’ll have a JV and varsity team with two different schedules,” Bassett said.
The competition for positions will only strengthen the team according to the coach.
“It’s a way to get kids to work hard everyday and be successful,” Bassett said. “When you get out in the real world you find out- quickly- that hard work pays off. These kids can learn that lesson now in athletics.”