By SHAWN YORKS
For fifth-year Liberal High School girls basketball coach Shane Stout, the upcoming Lady Redskins season will be a mystery. With only two returning starters off last year’s 12-10 team, who will lead the Lady Red? The coach is worried about lack of size and depth.
But the Lady Redskins have always proved resilient in the past, and last year was no exception. While the ladies got off to a slow start, they pulled off some big wins and advanced all the way to the sub-state championship game, where they lost to eventual Class 5A state champion Andover Central.
Not bad for a team that went 2-6 in Western Athletic Conference play.
“We were very competitive in the WAC,” Stout said. “The 2-6 record is nothing to brag about, but overall we were competitive. We played well there at the end of the season and made the sub-state finals.”
This year, despite only having two returning starters, there’s an air of excitement. Maybe the team can carry the momentum of a strong finish a year ago into this season.
“That’s always a good experience to get that opportunity to play in a championship game like that, or a game that gives you the opportunity to go to state,” Stout said. “All the girls played with us this summer and all got a chance to improve their game a little bit and play together.
“Hopefully as the season goes along we just get better everyday and towards the end of the season hopefully we have a chance to get back to the sub-state championship game or another chance to get back to the state tournament.”
A big key to Liberal’s success is returning starter Justice Norah, a junior who averaged 20 points and six rebounds per game last year. Joining Norah will be Kirsten Ross with her three points and three rebounds per game.
Norah produced all those numbers as a just a sophomore.
“She obviously had a very nice sophomore season,” Stout said. “Hopefully all the girls improve each and every day and get a little bit better, (but) we’re still looking for some good things out of her.”
Yes, Liberal’s small — the tallest on the roster are 5-foot-9 forwards Lauren Sumner (sr.) and Emily Bayouth (Jr.) — but what they lack in size, they make up for in pure athleticism and quickness, Stout said.
“We don’t have a lot of size at any of the positions,” Stout said. “We are fairly quick, athletic. One of our strengths should be our speed. But overall we’re going to have to take advantage of our quickness.”
Other seniors with minor experience will be 5-foot-6 forward Destiny Hall and 5-5 forward Megan Campbell. Juniors who will need to fill some holes are 5-8 forward Amanda Collins, 5-4 forward Ramey Petty and 5-7 forward Shaquill Bond.
Sumner and Bayouth played a lot of junior varsity last season, but have looked good in the first week of practice.
“They both were girls who played a lot with us this summer and have improved,” Stout said. “They’ll be key contributors this year.”
And playing in the WAC means there are no slouches on the schedule. And that holds true for the non-conference games, as well. The ladies start out against a Holcomb squad that has almost everybody back off a 17-win team. The home-opener is against a Guymon, Okla. team that has won its district two years running and made deep runs into the Oklahoma playoffs.
Then there’s the Conestoga Classic which will feature Oklahoma Class 6A power Lawton.
“There’s no slouches on the schedule at all,” Stout said. “The schedule just gets tougher every year.”