By Kenton Brooks
Phoenix Sports Writer
FORT GIBSON — They may be headed to the playoffs from a different direction, but Fort Gibson’s not looking up to a tall-across-the-board Weatherford team it faces in today’s Class 4A quarterfinal matchup at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany.
Weatherford’s starting lineup features a six-footer (Chandler Roof), a 5-10 player (Michaela Davis) and two other 5-9 players (Jonna Vanderslice and Rylie Torrey). The Lady Tigers have CheyAnne Johnson at 6-0 and Brooke Palmer at 5-10 but Savanna Gray is 5-9, Allie Glover 5-7 and Taylor London 5-5.
The potential edge in height in some matchups has them aware of the challenge.
“They’re really long and can get their hands on balls easier than other teams we’ve played,” 5-10 senior Brooke Palmer said. “But one thing that’s helped us that we had some of the players from the boys team practicing and playing defense against us.
“If we outrebound them, make good passing decisions and don’t turn the ball over easily, I definitely think we have a chance of winning.”
Fort Gibson, ranked second in the final Okrankings.com poll, puts its 26-1 record on the line against the No. 5 Lady Eagles (25-2) at 3:30 p.m.
This won’t be the first time the Lady Tigers have gone against size in this postseason — but that matchup is the only one that didn’t go Fort Gibson’s way this season.
Byng had players who stood 6-foot, 5-11 and 5-10 when it defeated Fort Gibson 57-46 in the 4A Area IV championship game last Friday at the Muskogee Civic Center, sending the Lady Tigers to the consolation final after eight seasons of going as area champs.
They insist they took plenty of notes from that lesson.
“We know what we’re working with now,” 6-foot sophomore CheyAnne Johnson said. ‘We’re not worried.”
But then, it’s not as if Fort Gibson has just now began working on getting mentally ready.
“This is why we scrimmage the people we scrimmage early in the season,” he said, noting physical teams like Muskogee, which compares in athleticism to Anadarko, the team FGHS lost to in its bid to repeat as state champions a year ago.
“It’s also why do the workouts with the weight training and agilities in the off-season. We work on our toughness. It’s not about the size, but the toughness in the size.
“We’ve never shied away from teams with size. Whoever we play, if it comes down to toughness, we’ll hold our own.”
Fort Gibson’s tallest player will come off the bench. She said she’ll be nervous at first, but will settle down when the game gets going.
“If we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be OK,” Susie Kilpatrick, a 6-2 sophomore, said. “We’re going to have to crash the boards. When I saw their size, I thought ‘Oh, my.’ I’ll just have to get in front of them and not let them push me into the goal. I’m going to work as hard as possible.”
Still, it’s literally a tall order for the Lady Tigers, who are making their ninth straight appearance in the state tournament.
“Are you asking is this a great matchup for us? No, but we’re where we are at because of how we played Friday,” he said. “In going to try to win a state championship, you can’t worry about who you get in the first round. You play who shows up and play your best. If you win, you play your best the next day. All of the teams are up there for reason.”
Friday’s semifinals will be at SNU and the championship game is Saturday at the Fairgrounds.