NORMAN — The biggest story out of Norman High this season has been the collection of freshmen coach Nichole Copeland has put together. In all, five play regular minutes and three start every game.
With such a young group, many games hinge on their ability to rise to the occasion and handle the pressure. What gets lost in that narrative is that there is one player who has proven every game that she’s up to the pressure.
That would be senior leader Taylor Ely, who proved again in Tuesday’s Crosstown Clash that she’s an elite player and - more importantly to her coach - an elite leader.
“Taylor was the only one who really came out ready to play tonight,” Copeland said after the Clash, a game where NHS cut Norman North’s lead to two points before watching the Timberwolves pull away. “She was focused from the tip, and she tried to bring her teammates along with her.”
Tuesday’s game proved once again how far Ely has come in her time at NHS. She’s started games since her sophomore year, when she was a pinpoint shooter but not much else. That worked well when she was just another option on a team with several of them. But as other Tigers graduated and Ely rose to the forefront, opposing defenses were able to put their best defender on her, harass her at the three-point line and limit her offense.
That’s no longer the case. North used defensive specialist Sam Landreth to guard Ely throughout the game, and while she did slow, Ely she was unable to completely stop her. Ely finished with 17 points and five rebounds, with nine of those come on 3-pointers.
But it was the way the rest of those points came that showcased her development as a player: from the free-throw line.
“Taylor’s not just a catch-and-shoot player anymore,” Copeland said. “She’s figured out how to play off the dribble and create her own space.”
She did both against North. Only one of Ely’s 3-pointers was an open shot. The other two came on plays where she took several dribbles to creature space before stepping back. That also allowed her to create penetration into the paint and draw fouls, as she finished with 10 free throws on the night.
It was another chapter in a trend this season. With the emergence of freshman Bethany Franks in the post, Ely has been able to find a consistent teammate to drop the ball off to when she penetrates, and the focus inside has allowed Ely the space to create her own shot.
And she’s made the most of it.
“She draws the other team’s best defender every night, and all she’s done to respond is average over 20 points a game,” Copeland said. “You appreciate how hard she’s willing to work out there. I’m proud of how she’s handled her senior year.”
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