By BEN JOHNSON
Walking the halls of the high school pretty enjoyable for the Tahlequah girls basketball team on Friday.
“It was awesome,” Tahlequah forward Reagan Clark said. “It’s the best feeling ever. Everyone is congratulating us.”
Said Maegan Blevins: “It was unbelievable (at school today).”
Concurring with both was Casey Beaston. “It was pretty good (at school), considering everyone I saw said congratulations.”
Why all the praise and admiration?
Well, the Lady Tigers had just wrapped up a state-tournament berth less than 24 hours before school on Friday. Tahlequah did so by winning its first area tournament title since 2001, beating Memorial 43-36 at the Chieftian Center in Sapulpa.
You’d think ending a drought that long would prompt a giant celebration by the Lady Tigers as the buzzer sounded. Beaston, however, said that just wasn’t the case.
“It was almost surreal,” she said. “You figured you would freak out when it happens, but you’re just happy, really.”
Tahlequah left the celebrating to the fans that followed them from Cherokee County. Blevins said it was great to have such support on the road.
“It was weird because we haven’t had a student section all year,” Blevins said. “But they got into the game just like it was a boys game.”
Beating Memorial allowed Tahlequah to rest over the weekend with the 5A state tournament to start on Thursday in the Tulsa area. Instead, Tahlequah let Memorial and Bishop Kelley fight over the final state-tournament spot in the area consolation title game.
“It was really important for us to win (Thursday) night, as opposed to playing Saturday,” Beaston said. “We know Bishop Kelley and Grove would both have been tough. But we didn’t really play on playing Saturday, to be honest.”
Tahlequah was one of four clubs to secure state tournament spots on Thursday. East Central, Shawnee and Deer Creek joined the Lady Tigers. On Saturday, Collinsville, Memorial, Carl Albert and Del City rounded out the state tournament field.
Tahlequah’s first-round opponent at the state tournament has yet to be determined, but judging by the slotting system used by the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association, Tahlequah’s first-round opponent will likely by 5A No. 3 Carl Albert.
“I don’t know a thing about them,” Tahlequah coach Chad Walker said. “They’ve got one really good player, but we battled that kind of thing all year long.”
State tournament pairings and game times will be released Sunday afternoon by the OSSAA.
As for his team’s mindset heading into the state tournament, Walker told his club to now go for the gold.
“My talk to the girls today was ‘don’t be satisfied,’” he said. “If the girls continue to play with the heart and hustle they’ve had, I think it’ll give us a chance to win a couple of games.”
Follow me @BenJohnsonTDP