By Corbin Hosler
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — One is a team that a year ago, while young, made a run to the state tournament and returned everyone from its roster. The other is a team starting three freshmen who have never experienced a Crosstown Clash.
It’s a disparity in experience that sets up tonight’s Clash as a referendum on just how much experience matters.
Not that everyone believes any of that matters.
“We know how good they are, and we’ve seen them all play,” Norman North coach Jeff Blough said. “It’s just basketball, and that’s what matters. We have a lot of kids who’ve played in the state tournament and played in big games, but they do, too. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Still, nerves are likely to play a role, and it’s the Timberwolves who figure to be more prepared for the atmosphere.
“I’m not as nervous now that it’s my third year playing,” North junior Haley Woodard said. “We’ve matured from last year, and I think that will help us. But it’s High-North. It doesn’t matter who’s ranked higher or who is supposed to be the better team.”
North is the favorite on paper. The fourth-ranked Timberwolves (1-1) returned all of last year’s state quarterfinals squad and swept all three Crosstown Clash games a year ago.
On the other side, Norman High (0-2) brings a retooled roster that features seniors Chandler Coale and Taylor Ely, who set a new career high with 36 points in Tuesday’s loss to Edmond Memorial, alongside a bevy of young talent. Leading the way is freshman Bethany Franks, a force inside for the Tigers, along with Shelby Thrailkill, Jandra Levi, Brennan Hockett and Darieanna Hunter.
The young Tigers are winless in a high school season that has gone through its ups and downs thanks to weather-related delays, but they have been competitive in both contests. They held a late lead against Edmond Memorial and had a chance to win in regulation before falling in overtime.
Coach Nichole Copeland attributed part of Tuesday’s loss to the inexperience on the floor, an issue that will only improve by playing more games. But no game can replicate the experience of going on the road for the Crosstown Clash, though the experience will almost certainly benefit the Tigers moving forward.
“It’s a tough matchup, but we’ll throw the ball up and go play,” Copeland said. “I’ve seen dramatic improvement every step of the way from this group, and I like coaching them. They mesh well, they’re eager to learn and they hate to lose.”
The battle inside the paint will be key to the contest.
The Timberwolves have a strong frontline in Woodard, Alexa Scott and Julian Mougell, who could all draw the assignment of guarding Franks. Another interesting matchup will come around the perimeter, where North’s Sam Landreth will likely draw the task of guarding Ely, a prolific shooter who has had Clash success in the past.
“I like how we match up,” said Blough, whose team will next play in the Tournament of Champions in Tulsa beginning the day after Christmas. “And it’s important for us to play well against NHS before going into the tournament.”
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