Take one look at the Class 5A girls basketball rankings and it’s pretty clear that the Claremore Lady Zebras are better than No. 15 in the state.
Under first-year head coach Stephanie Shaw, the Lady Zebras (9-7 overall) have beaten No. 5 Bishop Kelley, No. 9 Tahlequah and No. 10 Collinsville.
Of their seven losses on the season, three are against Class 6A No. 5 Bartlesville, one is against Class 6A No. 2 Bixby, one is to Krum (Texas), one is to Class 5A Skiatook and the other one is to Class 4A No. Oologah.
So, what gives? Why no respect for the Lady Zebras?
Over the weekend, the Lady Zebras once again battled through adversity and came away with a fifth-place finish in the Port City Classic.
After dropping the tourney opener to then No. 3-ranked Bartlesville, 57-41, the Lady Zebras came from behind to beat Class 4A No. 26 Catoosa, 53-42, and held off Class 4A No. 16 Victory Christian, 44-40.
According to Shaw, the key to her team’s success heading into February has been their fight on defense.
“This team deserves so much credit for always finding a way to come together and fight through whatever adversity seems to hit them,” Shaw said.
The 2012-13 Lady Zebras are three wins away from besting their 11-12 overall record last season.
“The strength of this team,” according to Shaw, “is that we don’t have one single person that teams can key on because our team is our strength.”
Shaw’s ability to get the best out of her players, even in crunch time, has proven that opponents can’t take the Lady Zebras lightly.
So far this season, the Lady Zebras are one of only two teams to hold Class 6A Bartlesville to three points.
In its first meeting with the Lady Bruins at Claremore High School, the Lady Zebras fell 52-49 to Bartlesville.
Last Saturday, the Bixby Lady Spartans won the Port City Classic with a 46-43 win over Bartlesville.
Claremore’s junior-laden team — led by returning starters Kaleigh Cox and Anna McGuire, as well as senior returning starter Ashlyn Glenn, has bought into Shaw’s system and the results are showing.
Hustle, hustle, hustle ... that’s what the Plainview, Texas native Shaw preaches to her players from the Lady Zebra sidelines.
The Lady Zebras’ aggression on defense has led to a 3-1 mark at home, including the season’s biggest win to this point in a 45-40 come-from-behind victory over Coweta.
After trailing 30-15 at the end of the first half against Coweta on Jan. 18, the Lady Zebras rallied with a full-court press and outscored the Lady Tigers, 30-10 in the final 16 minutes.
Last year, the Lady Zebras went 5-5 in conference play under former head coach Mark Campbell.
A year later, the Lady Zebras are 6-1 in Metro Lakes Conference play and on the brink of bringing home the league championship with home games against Collinsville and Pryor and road games to Bishop Kelley and Tahlequah.
The Lady Zebras’ only loss in conference came early in the season in a 34-26 setback to Skiatook.
Shaw, who was an NAIA Division I head coach at Northwestern Oklahoma State University before taking the Claremore job, believes her team could be really dangerous if they start putting both halves together.
“We’re playing really hard on defense, which I like to see, but at times, we’re having trouble scoring and running our offense,” Shaw said.
“If we ever put both pieces together, we could be really good.”