Up-tempo Lady Eagles look for fresh start in 2012-13

Senior guard Madison Middle will be counted on to provide leadership and energy for the Lady Eagles this season.
Senior guard Madison Middle will be counted on to provide leadership and energy for the Lady Eagles this season.

OKLAHOMA CITY (Nov. 2, 2012) – Numerous injuries to players last season forced Oklahoma Christian women’s basketball coach Stephanie Findley to scrap her team’s up-tempo style for a more traditional look. She was considering staying with the latter system this season.

But her returning players asked her if they could implement the faster style again this season and the longtime coach decided it would be worth another try, so when the Lady Eagles open their season Saturday afternoon at home against Oklahoma Wesleyan, grab a program. There will be a lot of substitutions.

“We’ll have more experience with it this year than we did last year,” Findley said. “It’s still fairly new to all of us. … We’ll throw it out there and see what happens. As we do it more and more, we’ll learn it more and develop it to fit our personnel more. We’re all learning at the same time.”

Six of the 17 players on OC’s roster last season missed significant time due to injuries and health issues. Two of them, Krista Stevens and Madison Middle, never played, and a third, Kaitlyn Morris, was sidelined for the season after only four games. Roz Hamilton, Jessica Findley and Beverly Hardeman also missed games due to injuries.

The Lady Eagles will start the season with only one injured player – forward Carli Covalt – although Findley is hopeful Covalt soon will be able to return to action. Findley used 16 players in an exhibition game against Oklahoma and came away pleased with how the Lady Eagles implemented the system.

“We’re just now kind of figuring it out,” Findley said. “As we progress and get better and better at it, during the season, hopefully we’ll show some improvement.”

Using the up-tempo style, the Lady Eagles started 3-0 last season before the injury bug arrived in earnest. OC had a winning record as late as Jan. 2 at 7-6, but a 10-game losing streak during Sooner Athletic Conference play essentially torpedoed the season. The Lady Eagles rallied to finish 9-20 but failed to qualify for the SAC tournament.

There is reason for optimism entering this season. OC will return its entire starting frontline in senior Katy O’Steen and juniors Andee Wayne and Hamilton. O’Steen emerged as the Lady Eagles’ most consistent player last season, finishing second on the team in scoring at 13.6 points per game and leading the team in rebounding (5.6) and field-goal percentage (51.9).

Wayne recorded the team’s only double-double last season and has great length, while Hamilton’s athleticism – she also competes as a heptathlete – often gives her an edge over opponents. When healthy, Covalt also has provided quality minutes. Sophomore Makenzie Brown gained valuable experience last year, as did Mica Havens and Skyler Newberry, undersized forwards who aren’t afraid to scrap against bigger opponents.

Freshman Aisha Martin, a small-school prep standout from Lorenzo, Texas, also is likely to see time inside, Findley said.

The Lady Eagles’ backcourt will have a new look with the graduation of last season’s starters, Katy Clift and Tarynn Branscum. At the point, Morris – who started for OC during the 2010 NAIA tournament but has missed most of the past two seasons with knee injuries – will lead a rotation that will include Talor Ward and Sydney Hill.

Ward proved in a 23-point outing against Mid-America Christian that she is capable of filling up the basket, while Hill was one of Oklahoma’s top prep guards last season at Edmond Memorial.

OC often will go small and play three guards. Entering the season, Middle, a steady senior, and Logan McKee, who was second on the team in made 3-pointers with 34 in 2011-12, will be the starters and there should be no shortage of depth.

“Kaitlyn is a coach’s kid who’s very smart and knows what we want to do,” Findley said. “The problem with her now is getting her back physically where she wants to be. Madison is always full of energy and helps your energy no matter if she starts or comes off the bench. Logan got a lot of experience last year after all the injuries we had.”

A pair of freshmen from Edmond Santa Fe High School’s back-to-back Class 6A title-winning squads, Daisha Gonzaque and Jasmine Hinton, will see time, as will Stevens, who is among OC’s most experienced players despite sitting out last season. Another freshman, Lindsey Larkin, also could see action in the backcourt.

“The freshmen are going to help us a lot,” Findley said. “They’re catching on pretty quick. They’re learning the offense faster than I expected them to. They just have to learn the speed of the game.”

OC has begun the NCAA Division II membership process and joined the Heartland Conference, which will mean new opponents for the Lady Eagles. OC will play every Heartland foe home-and-home, although the games won’t count in the conference standings.

Nonconference games will include matchups against former SAC rivals like Southern Nazarene and Lubbock Christian (Texas) and a home-and-home series with Southeastern Oklahoma State, an in-state foe that OC hasn’t played since the mid 1990s.

“It will be nice facing different people,” Findley said. “It will be interesting and exciting seeing new faces and facing new styles of play. I’m looking forward to it.”