Sports Editor

It’s just the first weekend of December, the Thanksgiving leftovers still occupy several family menus, and winter weather already is wreaking havoc with the high school basketball schedule.

A spate of games was postponed Friday and Saturday.

Even the setback of the football playoffs created a bit of a shakeup in the basketball plans.

Still, if and when the high school basketball season does reach full stride, there is reason to think that hoops magic will envelop and enrapture the county, and the region, right on through the spring thaw.

Some things just never change. Claremore’s Lady Zebras are once again expected to rank among the state’s elite.

And the Verdigris Lady Cardinals have designs on upgrading from silver to gold.

The Rogers County girls teams will be guided by new coaches and veteran coaches, and their rosters will be populated with familiar standouts, and stars of tomorrow.

Lance Bennett is celebrating his silver anniversary as the head coach of the Oologah Lady Mustangs, while Lisa Scott takes the reins of the Foyil Lady Panthers for the first time.

Hayley KnifeChief was the Claremore Progress All-Rogers County Girls Player of the Year last season as a junior.

As a senior, she is positioned to be one of the state’s top players and the No. 1 reason the Claremore Lady Zebras are predicted to have a say in the Class 5A championship race.

At Verdigris, sophomore Cassie Clarke returns following a spectacular debut season in which she helped power the Lady Cardinals to a surprising runner-up finish in Class 3A.

Mark Campbell’s return as coach at Claremore will have as much impact on the Lady Zebras as his lineup of experience and youth.

He is the architect, of course, of Claremore’s three-peat championship run (2003-05) and when he says “this could be a very exciting season,” that could spell trouble for Metro Lakes Conference opponents as well as all of Class 5A.

The 5-9 KnifeChief, who averaged 17 points last season, will be joined by 5-10 Audra Skimbo and 6-0 Logan Froese, a pair of front-liners who will carry on the Claremore tradition of rugged inside play on both ends of the court.

Skimbo, a junior, “is tough inside and can move outside for the three,” Campbell says.

And Froese, who had a brilliant coming-out party as a freshman, “finds a way to get to the basket or the free throw line,” Campbell says.

His roster includes only four seniors, but it is a team with balance, experience, and tradition. Just the right mix for a team that expects to improve on a 21-7 season that ended in the state semifinals.

Verdigris went through a dream season, coming out of the loser’s bracket in the playoffs to reach the championship game against Tahlequah Sequoyah.

Gary Kennemer, selected the Claremore Progress Rogers County Coach of the Year, can look to returning starters Clarke, Kait Heskett and Tiffani Nelms to ignite another explosive season.

But his first order of business is to survive the rocky road that runs through the Will Rogers Conference.

Inola and Claremore Sequoyah have the talent to threaten the Verdigris superiority.

The veteran Rick Ott, with more than 400 victories to his credit, has a cadre of versatility and marksmanship at Inola.

Mandy Grigg is a senior guard who averaged 17.8 points last season, and she will be joined by 5-10 post player Candace Maldanado, predicted to be a freshman force.

Sequoyah’s basketball schedule has been victimized by the wondrous march of its football team to the Class 3A finals. Regular-season games were rescheduled last week, and Monday night’s football finals will disrupt the Eagles’ appearance in the Adair basketball tournament.

But when Sequoyah’s Lady Eagles do take the court, second-year coach Russell Morgan will have a quality one-two punch in 6-0 sophomore Megan Fuller and 5-7 junior guard Melissa Goad.

Fuller averaged a double-double, in points and rebounds, as a freshman, and Morgan predicts more of the same.

After one season at Bluejacket, Lisa Scott takes over the program at Foyil.

She inherits only one senior, but a roster full of underclassmen who saw plenty of playing time last season.

Last winter offered up something of rebuilding season for Chelsea’s Lady Dragons. Three freshmen and two sophomores were routinely in the starting lineup.

Two of those returnees bring strong numbers into the new season. Sierra McSpadden (12.7 points, 9.5 rebounds) and Bree Winters (11.2 points) were the leading scorers for coach Charlie Hadley last season.

Bennett is in his 25th season at Oologah, and he could be making a run for the state tournament field in Class 4A.

There is plenty of experience returning, particularly in the person of 5-11 junior Cassidee Young and 5-9 junior Lachelle Hotfelt.

Hotfelt led the Lady Mustangs in scoring last season, at 10.5. “She excels as a defender, rebounder, passer and scorer,” Bennett says. “She is capable of making the big play on offense or defense.”

His inside game is in good hands with Young. But she has added a three-point shot to her game, making her an inside-outside threat.

Claremore Lady Zebras

Coach — Mark Campbell, 11th season.

Assistant — Kandy Damron.

Record last season — 21-7, Class 5A state semifinals.

Key players — Hayley KnifeChief, 5-9, senior; Lauren Froese, 5-9, senior; Audra Skimbo, 5-11, junior; Logan Froese, 6-0, soph.

Coach Campbell says — “This could be a very exciting season. We have great inside players and good guards. We play tenacious defense.”

Inola Lady Longhorns

Coach — Rick Ott, fifth season.

Assistants — Julie Scheer, Pete Orban.

Record last season — 17-8, Class 4A regionals.

Key players — Mandy Grigg, 5-4, senior; Mary Grigg, 5-4, senior; Sasha Unruh, 5-8, senior; Candace Maldanado, 5-10, fresh; Kelsey Sears, 6-2, fresh; Megan Houck, 5-6, junior; Bailey Gins, 5-4, soph.

Coach Ott says — “Mandy Grigg, the only returning starter, is a great shooter (averaged 17.8 points as junior). Freshman Candace Maldanado is emerging as a force inside.”

Oologah Lady Mustangs

Coach — Larry Bennett, 25th season.

Assistant — Ken Hotfelt.

Record last season — 13-12, Class 4A regionals.

Key players — Lachelle Hotfelt, 5-9, junior; Cassidee Young, 5-11, junior; Taylor Jeffs, 5-11, soph; Caitlin Linihan, 5-11, fresh; Paige Haines, 5-4, senior; Ashlee Dillman, 5-6, soph.

Coach Bennett says — “We have several players who are capable of having an outstanding game. Lachelle Hotfelt led our team in scoring (10.5 points) last year, and is our best all-around player. Cassidee led our team in blocked shots (1.1 per game) and was second in scoring (10.1).”

Verdigris Lady Cardinals

Coach — Gary Kennemer, third season.

Assistants — Stacy Risenhoover, Ryan Burcham.

Record last season — 24-6, Class 3A state runnerup.

Key players — Cassie Clarke, 5-9, soph; Kait Heskett, 5-6, junior; Tiffani Nelms, 5-3, senior.

Coach Kennemer says — “We expect Cassie (16.9 points, 6.0 rebounds) to really take her game to another level this year. Kait Heskett (9.0 points) and Tiffani Nelms will be huge for us.”

Foyil Lady Panthers

Coach — Lisa Scott, first season.

Assistant — Phil Webb.

Record last season — 9-15, Class 2A regionals

Key players — Kelsey Marang, 5-10, soph; Cheryl Brown, 5-5, soph; Megan Hipp, 5-5, soph; Tiffany Snyder, 5-3, soph; Kenzie Murray, 5-6, soph; Kristen Marang, 5-8, senior.

Coach Scott succeeds Mark Fraley, who resigned after the season. Five sophomores return after seeing considerable playing time as freshmen.

Chelsea Lady Dragons

Coach — Charlie Hadley, third season.

Assistant — Jamie Quigley.

Record last season — 4-20, Class 3A regionals.

Key players — Sierra McSpadden, 5-10, soph; Bree Winters, 5-7, junior.

Coach Hadley says — “Experience should be a big factor for this year’s team. We return our top two scorers, Sierra McSpadden (12.7 points, 9.5 rebounds) and Bree Winters (11.2 points).”

Sequoyah Lady Eagles

Coach — Russell Morgan, second season.

Assistant — Brad Holt.

Record last season — 13-11, Class 4A regionals.

Key players — Megan Fuller, 5-11, soph; Melissa Goad, 5-6, junior.

Coach Morgan says — “Megan Fuller is a very strong player, with a good touch. Averaged a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) as a freshman. Melissa Goad is our best defender, and she’s very good at running the offense.”

Catoosa Lady Indians

Coach — Joyce Churchwell, first season.

Record last season — 3-20, Class 5A regionals.

Key players — Becky Chesney, Kaylin Sunday, Rachel


Coach Churchwell says — “We’re playing a catch-up game with basic skills. Some of the girls have very limited basketball experience.”