After back-to-back trips to the Class 5A State Championship tourney, El Reno High School girls basketball fans are starting to wonder if the third time is indeed the charm.
El Reno made it to state both years under head coach Jennifer Douglas, but suffered first-round losses to Pryor and Tahlequah – both by double-digit margins.
Douglas says her players and program have learned from both of those setbacks as El Reno will embark again next week to make it to state.
The Indians open the 2018-19 season Tuesday at Piedmont.
“No one expected us to make it to state my first year and we have ended up going the last two years. The last two years it was a goal of ours to make it to the state tourney. This year it’s an expectation.
“It’s no longer a goal but an expectation that we make it to state,” said Douglas.
The goal, says Douglas, has switched to ending El Reno’s nine-game losing streak in state tourney games and earn the program’s elusive first win.
“Once we get to state the goal will now be making it past the first round,” said Douglas.
Now that El Reno has gotten the taste of state again, Douglas wants to model her program’s success after that of the El Reno boys, who have made it to state 38 times.
Prior to the 2017 state berth, the EHS girls had not reached the state level since back-to-back trips in 2007 and 2008.
“We have changed our goals and our outlook as to what we are doing as a program. The boys have the expectation to make it to state each year and win once they get there. If they fall short of that they feel like they have failed.
“That is the culture that I am trying to bring to girls basketball,” said Douglas.
Douglas says the transition from a pretender to a state tourney contender is just the natural progression of any rebuilding process.
“There are always going to be things you want to fix from the very beginning, but you have to know that you can’t fix everything from the get-go. The great thing is that my seniors know what my expectations are in practice and in games and I’m not having to reteach things to them as juniors and seniors,” said Douglas.
It’s a mentality which has trickled down to her sophomore class as well as the incoming freshmen who will also make a big impact this season.
“My sophomores are on board and they know what we are doing as a team and what I expect from them on the floor. The incoming freshmen were with us all summer so it’s nice not to have to re-teach something every year,” said Douglas.
Douglas says with players understanding the fundamentals of her playbook, it has allowed her to start working on the mental game needed to get out of big games, like those at state, with victories.
“Now in my third year I’ve gotten to start hitting on the mental part of the game. The things which fall between the lines and not necessarily having to teach the X’s and the O’s like we did my first two years.
“Now it’s just a little reminder or a quick film session because my juniors and seniors I can ask them a question and they already know the answer,” said Douglas.
El Reno is coming off a 16-12 season which lifts Douglas to a career mark of 33-23 at El Reno. The Indians did lose three starters to graduation, two of those All-State players in Hayden Freeman and Massey Beard. However, the Indians bring back plenty of firepower for this season.
“My goal coming into El Reno was to develop two or three solid girls in each class. That way when we did graduate two or three players, though they will be missed, it would not hurt us,” said Douglas.
Key seniors this year will be post players Kiera Davis and Charlee Bushyhead and point guard Merzedes Macias. All three saw extended action last year with Davis being a starter before suffering a season-ending injury.
“Kiera is so quick that in the past I’ve been able to put her on a team’s best guard and she is able to handle them even though she may be 2 or 3 inches taller.
“This year we are going to be asking her to be more of an offensive threat. She has been working really hard over the summer on her ball-handling, outside shot and free throws. Now we’re working on facing the basket and attacking because she can finish with both hands,” said Douglas.
Davis played in 18 games and was 39-of-110 from the floor for 35 percent shooting. She was a 55 percent free-throw shooter at 36-of-66 and closed her junior year with 114 points for a 6.3 average.
She had the third highest rebounding total in 10 less games, pulling down 101 for a 5.6 average.
Bushyhead played in all 28 games and closed the season shooting 33-of-59 for 56 percent. She was 5-of-11 from the free-throw line for 45 percent and scored 71 points for a 2.5 average. On the boards she collected 94 rebounds (3.4 average), 10 of those coming in the area consolation championship against Bishop McGuinness.
“We've been working on her stamina on the offensive end. She did everything we asked her to do on defense, now we are asking her to get it going on the offensive end,” said Douglas.
Macias also played in all 28 games but was behind Freeman at the point guard position. She ended her junior year shooting 70-of-153 for 46 percent which included 16 made 3-point baskets, the second highest on the team.
She made 30 free throws off 65 percent shooting to make up her 186 points or 6.6 per game. Macias also grabbed 101 rebounds for a 3.6 average in addition to 47 steals.
“Merzedes’ position is different from anyone else. Last year I asked her and Hayden to play the point guard role so that she could get used to the pressure of that position.
“She had one of the best shooting percentages on the team, so when she does shoot it’s great. This year we will need her to be a facilitator as well as a scorer and a teacher as she helps Ashlyn (Evans) learn how to run the point as well,” said Douglas.
El Reno brings a wealth of contributing underclassmen to the court. Juniors Kayla Jones (3.7 ppg/2.0 rpg) and Arianna Long (1.3 ppg/1.7 rpg) will be taking on larger roles this season.
The sophomore class is headed up by returning all-conference player Jaylin Reveles, who saw action in all 28 games. The guard scored 183 points for a 6.5 average, while collecting the second highest rebounding total at 103 for a 3.7 average. She had 24 steals and 41 assists.
Kenzie Holsted (2.0 ppg/1.0 rpg) saw action as well as Bobbi Botone (1.3 ppg). Sierra Sioux played in four games before suffering an ACL injury.
Evans, who had an impressive summer at the point, will be a key freshman player along with Paige Primeaux and Leslie Valdez.