When Class 5A All-State post Logan Froese graduated in 2009, Claremore head coach Mark Campbell immediately handed over the keys to the Lady Zebras traditionally-rich basketball program to two fiery seniors — Taylor Swift and Sierra Barnwell.
Froese, a freshman forward for the 2009-10 Rogers State women’s basketball team, set the example and carried the Lady Zebras on her shoulders for a magical run that ended in the Class 5A state quarterfinals.
A year later, Swift and Barnwell, the lone senior starters, have overcome right knee injuries and friendship battles for the love of basketball.
Barnwell said when she moved to Claremore two years ago (as a sophomore), she and Swift didn’t speak to one another or even do anything together.
“Now we are the best of the friends,” Barnwell said.
Two years later and a lot of forgiving times has this ‘Dynamic Duo’ following in the footsteps of Froese and past Lady Zebra standouts.
The bond between Swift and Barnwell has No. 5 Claremore peaking at just the right time in the Class 5A state basketball playoffs.
On the hardwood or around town, Swift and Barnwell are inseparable.
“We read each other’s mind and trust one another,” Barnwell said.
And, even bring out the best and worst of one another, added Swift.
According to Barnwell, Swift is the glue that holds the Lady Zebras’ defense in check.
“You can always count on Taylor playing hard on defense,” Barnwell said. “She’ll take a charge for the team.”
And, everyone knows that offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.
Barnwell credited Swift’s tenacity for making her a more complete player.
“Taylor’s greatest strength is her quickness. She never really gets beat on the dribble,” Barnwell said. “She makes practices tough on me.”
As the point guard in Campbell’s fundamentally-sound system, Barnwell’s role is to coordinate the offense and find scoring opportunities for Swift.
“Taylor never misses her 3-point shots, and has the ability to drive the lane,” Barnwell said. “Plus, if she gets fouled, she’ll make her free throws.”
Last Saturday, however, Barnwell finally beat Swift in the score column.
Against Edison, despite losing, Barnwell scored a season-high 17 points, hitting the majority of her short-range jump shots and even buried a three-pointer from the top of the key.
Barnwell said that the Edison game showed the ‘heart of the Lady Zebras.’
“Even when we were down by 18, we never gave up,” Barnwell added. “We may have lost the game, but for the first time we were all on the same page.”
It’s the testimony of these two seniors that has their teammates believing that small-town dreams come true with teamwork, determination and a winning attitude.
“In the past, we’ve had a lot of individualism,” Barnwell said. “But now that we’re two games away from reaching state, it’s important that we come together.”
And, what better time to start than at 8 p.m. tonight against Bishop Kelley in a loser’s bracket game at Catoosa High School.
Swift said that the Lady Zebras have overcome tremendous adversity to get this far in the playoffs.
“From the injuries we’ve all had to overcome, it’s been a season of hills and valleys,” Swift added. “Reaching the Mabee Center (State) would boost our confidence and prove to people that Claremore is a team that isn’t giving up.”
Barnwell agreed with her counter-part and added, “We care and we have heart . . . Winning State would be the icing on the cake.”
Swift and Barnwell represent the ‘heart and soul’ of the Lady Zebras.
Like Froese did in 2009 - leading Claremore to the 5A State Tournament - these two fearless seniors are paving the way for next year’s team.
“In order to be great on and off the court, you have to make sacrifices for the love of the game,” Swift said.