Second place was something happening too often to the El Reno Lady Indians’ liking. They finished second at the Shawnee Invitational last year and lost in the 5A state championship game to McAlester. Additional second-place finishes this season in early-season tournaments only added to their frustration.
The Lady Indians finally broke through last week, however, when they raced past the competition at this year’s Shawnee Invitational, capturing the championship with a hard-fought win over 6A Jenks, 50-36.
Watch a replay of the championship game: 2023 Shawnee Invitational Basketball Championships (1-21-23)
“Shawnee is one of the toughest tournaments that we play in because its full of 5A and 6A talent,” claimed El Reno head coach Jennifer Douglas. “Every game is tough.”
“I just feel like it was a really good team effort all weekend long,” stated Douglas. “It doesn’t matter who gets the glory or gets the awards. Individual accolades don’t come unless the team wins. It’s imperative that the team comes before yourself. That’s exactly what they did this weekend and I’m so proud of them.”
Junior forward Pauline Black-Harmon earned tournament MVP honors after leading a balanced Lady Indian scoring attack to three victories.
“It means a lot,” said Black-Harmon after the title game. “This is our third tournament. We lost the other two in the championship, so it means a lot.”
El Reno, now 12-3 on the season, is eyeing a return to the state tournament despite having only one senior on its roster. The Lady Indians start three sophomores and two juniors.
“Making it to the state tournament is the expectation in our program,” claimed Douglas. “This is my seventh year here and we’ve made it five of the previous six years. That’s something that we talk about from Day 1 – what it takes to get there, the culture you have to build, and the standards and expectations in practice.”
Although they’re young, the El Reno starters have quite a bit of varsity experience. Black-Harmon has started since she was a freshman. Junior point guard Nazhoni Sleeper earned valuable minutes as a defensive stopper last season. Sophomores Lilly Thomas (Calumet) and Emmary Elizondo (Tahlequah Sequoyah) played extensively as freshmen at their previous schools. Sophomore guard Reagan Bugaj rounds out the talented starting five.
“They’re hungry,” admitted Douglas about her team. “They’re ready to return to the state tournament. There’s tough competition. We don’t want to look any further than getting there first.”
“I truly believe we have the talent to make the state tournament and make some noise if we get there,” added Douglas. “I’m just thankful that I get to coach this team and I get them for another year and another year after that. It’s exciting. I can’t wait to see their growth. They’ve grown so much since October, and I can’t wait to see over the next few years how they grow even more.”