NORMAN — Entering the first Crosstown Clash, there are plenty of questions. What there aren’t, at least not before tonight’s 6:15 tip at Norman North, are answers.
And with most of the key players from last year’s down-to-the-wire Clashes, the first question is clear. Is there any way Tigers and Timberwolves can top last year’s pair of games?
After a pair of buzzer-beating one-point victories last year, Norman High faces many of the same questions from a year ago. Can the Tigers bring the consistency needed to win? Will their solid defense be enough to overcome a lackluster offense? How will they respond to what will be the most hostile crowd of the season?
It’s the same at North, where the T-Wolves have some unanswered questions hanging over their own heads.
The biggest one is whether or not North can finally break a Clash losing streak that dates back 27 games and a decade. Will last year’s contests, in which North lost a last-second lead in both, affect their mindset this time around? Will a few lingering injuries slow the T-Wolves once they tip off? And with a number of new-to-the-Clash players on the roster, how will the young Timberwolves respond to the environment?
None of these questions can be answered before the two teams have it out on the court tonight. But both coaches have tried to look beyond the questions and instead at what they know.
For NHS coach Nichole Copeland, it’s simple.
“We just need a win,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who it’s against. We need to put a complete game together.”
Luckily for the Tigers, the Clash brought out the best in their two best players. Taylor Ely put up 17 points in the first game last season to pace the Tigers, while Bethany Cox gathered an airball with two seconds left and hit a layup to give NHS the win in the second Clash. Slowing the dynamic duo is atop of North coach Jeff Blough’s priority list.
“We’ve got to keep our hands up on those two when they have the ball and not give them any easy looks,” he said. “It’s about doing the fundamentals; blocking out, closing out on the shooters and keeping a body on the cutters.”
The other factor that may play a role is that of experience. While North has a few players — namely junior Bri Kuestersteffen and sophomore Haley Woodard — back from last year’s Clash, the rest of the roster is new to the rivalry game. NHS, on the other hand, returns most of last year’s team.
“Last year is definitely in the back of our minds, but we’re not dwelling on it,” Kuestersteffen said. “We want to start a new tradition this year.”
Possibly balancing the equation is that, while the Tigers have the more experienced group, the Timberwolves will have the home crowd behind them. It’s hard to predict how teams will respond in a hostile environment, but Copeland hopes to turn into a positive.
“There’s different ways the crowd can affect you,” she said. “The atmosphere will definitely be a factor, and that’s what makes these things fun. But I think our girls can use it as motivation.”
Corbin HoslerFollow me @Chosler88chosler@normantranscript.com