By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Even before the season tips off, the Stillwater High School girls basketball team already has its sight set on one goal — not just making it to state, but making some noise.
With four returning starters and one of the deepest benches the Lady Pioneers have had in years, it’s easy to see why Stillwater has such a lofty goal.
“We have pretty high expectations,” Stillwater coach Carl Treat said. “We’ve got four returning starters off of last year’s team. They’re a year older and a year stronger. Then we got a good group of girls around them, so we’re really looking forward to this season and building off the success we’ve had the last couple of seasons.”
Over the past few seasons the Lady Pioneers have taken their fair share of lumps, yet continue to find a way to the area tournament. This season, Treat hopes those early bumps and bruises will make his team even stronger with a swarm of seniors — including starters Austyn Iven, Jenny Scarbrough, Blake Bulard and Callie Atkins.
“It just helps because they’ve been through the battles,” Treat said. “They know our expectations. They know what we’ve got going on and the places we’re going to. It’s just harder to be surprised that way because there’s not as many new challenges for them.”
But there is one new challenge for Treat — replacing Stillwater’s leading rebounder and scorer, LaNesha Middleton. Middleton has been a rock for the Lady Pioneers the last four years, creating opportunities off the dribble and muscling her way inside.
Now, she’s at Stephen F. Austin and Treat has to find a way to make up for those lost points and rebounds.
“Athletically, she did so many things for us,” Treat said. “Rebounding was such a strong suit for her. We got to find a way to make sure that we get those rebounds and continue to improve on that. Also, without her scoring, we have to be able to work on our scoring and take her points and spread them out among those that are there. It changes our scheme a little bit, but again, the kids are a year older and ready to go.”
Two of the players that Treat said will have the biggest impact is Scarbrough and Iven.
“Hopefully we’ll be a little more balanced this year,” Treat said. “Austyn is going to have to shoot the ball a lot more for us, but the others will step up ... Jenny is going to have to be a scoring force on the inside and I think she has got the ability to do that.”
Both players proved they have the ability to do that against some of the best teams in the state during Stillwater’s scrimmages earlier in the season.
Treat said he intentionally scheduled tougher teams to make sure that his team was knowing exactly what it was getting into when it comes to the state playoffs.
“We toughened up our scrimmage schedule and saw a lot of good teams,” Treat said. “We saw a lot of teams that are probably going to be in the state tournament and we’re just looking forward the challenge of that. We have to take care of business during the season and get the wins we need to get the seeding and just continue to improve. February is a long way away. It’s a long season and we have to stay healthy and keep getting better.”
As the Lady Pioneers begin the season against Tulsa NOAH — one of the best homeschool teams in the nation — Treat said there has definitely been a buzz surrounding practice the last few days.
“By the fifth or sixth scrimmage the kids are ready to play,” Treat said. “They’re tired of scrimmaging and they’re ready to get the smell of popcorn in the air and the excitement of the crowd. We’re looking forward to it and we’re really looking forward to hosting the festival this year.