Pete Papahronis has been coaching high school basketball long enough to know that there are no easy nights in Oklahoma’s Class 6A girl’s division.
The Edmond North Lady Huskies coach experienced it first-hand last week when his squad lost a close game to top-ranked Norman early in the week and followed it up by winning the tough Jenks/Union Tournament in Tulsa, which included a victory over #2-ranked and previously unbeaten Tulsa Union in the championship game.
“We found out the week before that we’re being sent East for the playoffs,” said Papahronis, “which means playing against those east-side teams. It was really important to come to Tulsa and perform well.”
And perform well they did. The #3-ranked Lady Huskies prioritized improving their team defense leading up to the tournament and it showed. In the Jenks/Union tourney, they held their three opponents to 46, 35 and 43 points.
“We like to hang our hats on our defense,” stated Papahronis. “That’s what we emphasize every day. We know there’s some nights, no matter how good on offense you are, the ball just doesn’t go in the hole. So, we really try to hang our hat on the defensive end and that’s where we really focus.”
Leading the way offensively for Edmond North has been sharpshooting sophomore Laci Steele, who pumped in 30 points in the loss to Norman and added 24 in the championship win over Union to garner tournament MVP honors.
“She’s a really, really good offensive player,” commented Papahronis. “She’s a good scorer. She has a knack of putting the ball in the hole. She’s a tough matchup because she can play in or out.”
“That’s one of the things that helps me is my size,” said Steele, who averaged 12 points a game last year as a freshman. “Bigger girls have trouble guarding me outside and smaller girls struggle because I can post them up. I just try to be as versatile as I can.”
Steele, a 5-11 guard/forward, is already garnering attention from college coaches. She’s received six offers so far and that number is bound to grow with two years of high school remaining.
Most of this year’s Edmond North squad is forced to play against older players because the Lady Huskies have such a young roster. They only have one senior and currently start two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman. Included among the starters are Papahronis’ two daughters. Toni, a junior, is the team’s starting point guard and Elle, a sophomore, is the team’s top defender.
“It’s as challenging as it is rewarding,” remarked Papahronis on coaching his daughters. “A lot of times I probably treat them unfairly because I look at them as my daughters instead of as my players. Sometimes they have a tough time looking at me as a coach instead of a dad.”
Young teams tend to take their lumps in Class 6A because of the stiff competition. It’s impressive the Lady Huskies have been so successful despite their young team. Four teams from Edmond North’s COAC conference qualified for state in each of the last two years. This year, the COAC currently features the number one, three, five, seven, nine and 10th-ranked girls teams.
“We’re in a pretty brutal conference,” admitted Papahronis. “That’s who we go against every night. Then I try to go east for tournaments to face the best from the Tulsa side. We’re trying to play the best. In order to be the best, you’ve got to play the best and hopefully that will help us come playoff time.”
“We’ve got a good group and everyone knows their roles,” added Papahronis. “Some nights the girls are called on to do a little bit more. We’ve just got to keep rolling. We’re defensive-minded and when we focus on that, I think we can compete with anybody.”