New collection likely a winning combination

CHICKASHA – With a new set of players and little transition this year, Coach Laci Tompkins is hoping to make something happen on the floor this season.

“We have some really savvy basketball players coming in. We are expecting a very competitive team this year,” she said. “It is hard to say early, but I like the way our team is coming together.”

Along with four returners — Aita Gueye, Alicia Musgrove, Tashina Ototivo and Annitra Walls  — Tompkins gathered a team complete with freshmen and college players from across the state. One of the unique features of the 2010-11 team is that many of them are local kids.

“There are young ladies on our team I believe are winners in life, people who will be great leaders and citizens,” Tompkins said. “This has really translated on the floor for us and there is a high expectation and demand for quality performance.”

While most of the new Drovers are noteworthy, Tompkins pointed out Korie Hargus, from Chickasha, Tiffany Jupin, from Washington, Okla., Paige Pulliam, from Newcastle, and Victoria Russell, from Hobart, as local players she’s excited about.

Assistant Coach Carey Phariss said that although the many of the players have little experience in the Sooner Athletic Conference, he’s not concerned about their success in it.

“Our new players will have no problems with the transition. When we recruit them most already know how tough the Sooner Athletic Conference already is,” he said. “It helps that we remind them everyday how tough games in our league will be.”

That’s where the team’s returners have the advantage. Senior Aita Gueye has been successful on the USAO team for the last two seasons. She netted a career high 21 points in February against conference opponent Mid-America Christian. She had 244 points last year and led the team in steals with 43.

Annitra Walls, also as senior, is a strong player who averaged 5.2 points per game and had 62 assists on the season.

Ototivo is one of only two players to have made an appearance in every game in the 2009-10 season. She led the team in field goal percentage and came in second on the team in rebounds.

“Our goal as a team is similar to any team, to be successful, but again its working hard to get to where we want to go — the national tournament — and I really do think we have a opportunity,” Phariss said.

Last season, the Drovers had some trouble netting field goals, which is something Tompkins was sure to recruit.
“We have lots of experience at the college level coming in,” she said. “We have good shooters joining us, as well. Those are never a bad combination.”

The Drovers have been practicing since late September, with an emphasis on strength and condition, shooting and fundamentals, Tompkins said.
In addition to hard work on the court, neither Drover coaches have concerns about the team’s academic success.

“I do know that we will work hard on and off the floor. I honestly have no doubts about that,” Phariss said. “We have student athletes that will excel in both areas — not only mean the athletic side of our university but also the academic side.”

But it’s the way the team fits together that really sets it apart from others.

“We have a great group of student athletes they get along well on and off the court,” he said. “Team chemistry, in my mind, is a major part of players being successful.”??Tompkins agrees that they’ve brought together a special group to round out the 2010-11 season.

“At this point, this is one of the most fun teams I have ever coached. They make it a joy to come to work every day,” she said. “It is my desire to see them have great success because they are doing the behind the scenes work to deserve it."

Published: Nov. 2, 2010