Sports Sunday Correspondent
The Chelsea teams were the first to start up and the Claremore Lady Zebras will be the last to take the court, but Rogers County high school basketball is finally getting into full swing.
Only time will reveal which local teams might earn a trip to this year's state tournament. The county sent four at the end of last season. Can the same four repeat? Can any of the others join them?
The Verdigris boys and girls are expected to return for the third straight year. Preseason polls have each team rated among the top three in Class 3A.
The Lady Zebras, dropping an overtime heartbreaker to Tulsa East Central in last season’s Class 5A championship contest, will now step up to Class 6A. Being in the largest classification shouldn't slow them down any.
The biggest surprise came from the Foyil boys. Losing eight regular-season games, the Panthers caught fire at the right time and advanced to the Class 2A semifinals.
With each new season come changes. Three county teams will have new coaches. Matt Sweeney has replaced Rogers County veteran Larry Bennett as the Oologah girls leader. At Sequoyah, Tim Stewart takes over the boys reins, while Stephanie Shieldnight is now in charge of the Chelsea girls.
On the other end of the scale is Inola's Clyde Barkley. A lifelong Inola resident and an All-State player himself, he is starting his 29th season as the head Longhorn boys coach.
With the exception of Claremore, all the locals are now off and running. The Zebra squads were scheduled to open Friday at Bixby, but due to Bixby still playing football, games were postponed until a later date.
Here is a brief preview of each Rogers County basketball team:
CLAREMORE Boys — Coach, Lance Bennett (7th year) — Jaren Riley (5-10 senior) is the lone returning starter as the Zebras move to 6A. A true rebuilding season is in store, but enough building blocks may be on the roster. Move-in Dallas Randen (6-3 senior) is expected to join forces with Kyle Mosely (5-10 senior), Dylan James (6-2 junior) and Hunter Hines (6-7 junior).
CLAREMORE Girls — Coach, Mark Campbell (13th year) — Look out 6A, here come the Lady Zebras. A fixture at the 5A tournament, nothing is expected to change. Skill, grit and size sum up this squad. Audra Skimbo (5-10 senior), Logan Froese (6-0 junior), and Mandy Walker (6-0 senior) will lead the way for the talented younger players. Among that group is Ashley Davis (5-8 junior).
CATOOSA Boys — Coach, Scott Padek (3rd year) — After winning only one game last year, the Indians are hoping to take a page from their surprising football team's playbook. Chris Loomis (6-0 senior), Cory Wilson (5-9 senior), and Brett Goad (6-0 junior) are returning starters. Each is a year wiser, but help must come from a solid group of newcomers.
CATOOSA Girls — Coach, Joyce Churchwell (3rd year) — It’s the same story for the Lady Indians. They also were limited to one victory. Four returnees are determined to do something to improve that total. They are Courtney Dill (5-9 senior), Becky Chesney (5-4 junior), Megan Robison (5-3 sophomore), and Tiffany Brown (5-5 sophomore)
OOLOGAH Boys — Coach, Ron Ward (5th year) — Coming off a season that saw the Mustangs reach the area tournament finals, only one starter is back. Jordan Barnett (6-3 junior) is a good one to build around, however. A good crop of newcomers might take time to blend together, but the athletic ability seems to be present.
OOLOGAH Girls — Coach, Matt Sweeney (1st year) — The Lady Mustangs show promise as four starters return. Leading the pack is Lachelle Hotfelt (5-10 senior) with her quickness and scoring touch. Steady performances should also come from Cassidee Young (5-11 senior) and Ashlee Dillman (5-5 junior). Taylor Jeffs (5-11 junior), Caitlin Linihan (5-11, sophomore), and Brittany Rawlinson (5-11, junior) will provide extra size.
SEQUOYAH Boys — Coach, Tim Stewart (1st year) — It’s a clean slate for the new coach. Graduation claimed all five starters from a year ago. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. New leadership should come from Chance Smith (5-8 senior), Jeff Perry (6-0 senior), David Golden (5-10 senior) and Michael Rock (6-0 senior). Nate Turman (6-3 junior) adds height.
SEQUOYAH Girls — Coach, Russell Morgan (3rd year) — The Lady Eagles return their entire lineup from a year ago. Megan Fuller (6-0 senior) is expected to once again head the attack. She is joined by Melissa Goad (5-7 senior), Johnna Weast (5-6 senior), Jessica Harrison (5-9 junior), and Stevey Conger (5-6 junior). Hailey Haynes (5-9 sophomore) also is coming on.
INOLA Boys — Coach, Clyde Barkley (29th year) — The team that makes the most improvement this year should be the Longhorns. What they lack in size will be made up for with their quickness. Jared Cotton (5-10 senior) heads this department. Zac Elseman (6-2 senior) and Tyler Stone (6-0 senior), plus Eric Feemster (6-2 junior) and Aaron Weaver (5-10 junior) are ready to step up.
INOLA Girls — Coach, Rick Ott (6th year) — Megan Houck (5-7 senior) and Kristina Swanson (5-3 senior) will provide the scoring punch and Kelsey Sears (6-1 sophomore) can grab her share of rebounds as the Lady Longhorns take the court. Look for Bailey Gins (5-5 junior) and Candace Maldonaldo (5-11 sophomore) to get playing minutes.
VERDIGRIS Boys — Coach, Kelly Clarke (4th year) — Anything short of a state championship will be a disappointment. Rotnei Clarke (6-1 senior) and Co. have been stopped the past three years in the state semifinals. Despite challenging for the all-time scoring record, Clarke can't do it alone. Adam Hollon (6-7 senior) is ready to be a force inside while D.J. Sam (6-0 senior) and Cole Overholt (6-1 sophomore) take some of the pressure off Clarke. After not playing last year, football quarterback Aaron Sunday (6-3 senior) is back with welcome help.
VERDIGRIS Girls — Coach, Gary Kennemer (4th year) — The Lady Cardinals will be bidding for a third straight state berth. Cassie Clarke (5-11 junior) will continue to be the scoring leader as she has been since her freshman season, but Kait Heskett (5-6 senior) and Meg Heskett (5-4 senior) will also get their points. Andi Nichols (5-10 senior) and Julia Mitchell (6-0 sophomore) have the size in the middle. More bench help is expected to come from a talented sophomore class.
CHELSEA Boys — Coach, Chris Smith (2nd year) — Another team expected to show major improvement. Despite winning only six games, the Dragons still managed to get to the area tournament. Four starting veterans are back from that group. Ryan Terry (6-1 senior), Ben Jordan (5-11 senior) and Kyle Morrison (6-0 senior), plus Tyler Captain (5-9 junior), are now joined by Caleb Hull (6-2 junior) and Trent Ellick (5-9 senior).
CHELSEA Girls — Coach, Stephanie Shieldnight (1st year) — Several members of the state championship softball team are ready to carry that success over to the hardwoods. As one of three returning starters, Sierra McSpadden (6-0 junior) will provide offense. Help will come from Bree Winters (5-6 senior), Kasha Kolb (5-7 senior) and Rachel Green (6-2 junior). Emily Miller (5-10 sophomore) also can fill a key role.
FOYIL Boys — Coach, Jason Ward (3rd year) — The Panthers had to wait 36 years between trips to the state tournament. The wait ended last season. The next wait should not be as long. Taylor Antle (6-3 senior), Jared Ward (6-1 junior), Tyler Ridgway (6-5 junior), and Austin Hendrix (5-8 senior) expect to go again. Kris Mount (6-0 senior) and Brandon Thomas (6-5 junior) are also ready to fill in the pieces.
FOYIL Girls — Coach, Lisa Scott (2nd year) — Samantha Luckinbill (6-3 junior) supplies the only size for the Lady Panthers. No one else goes over 5-6. Experience is also a factor. No seniors are listed. Determination is present, however. Kenzie Murray (5-5 junior), Tiffany Snyder (5-3 junior), Cheryl Brown (5-6 junior) and Tosha Remington (5-3 sophomore) will fill in around Luckinbill.
CLAREMORE CHRISTIAN Boys — Coach, Jason Brown (3rd year) — This will be the Warriors' first year as a member of the OSSAA. Bryan Bell (5-9 senior) and Andrew Bell (6-0 sophomore) promise to supply double scoring figures. Kameron Keenon (6-4 junior) has inside height while Danny Zehder (5-8 senior) and Jake Laymon (5-9 junior) come to play.
CLAREMORE CHRISTIAN Girls — Coach Jim Warren (3rd year) — If the Lady Warriors improve on their 15 victories from a year ago, and make a splash in Class B, a very young cast will need to do it. The team is made up of sophomores and freshmen. Manda Sweet (5-4 sophomore) and Hannah Webber (5-7 sophomore) are the "old-timers" on the team. Ally Warren (5-8 freshman), Kaitlyn Lunk (5-5 freshman) and Beverly Anderson (5-3 freshman) must carry over their junior high success.