NORMAN — The Oklahoma women met with the media Monday.
Sherri Coale, Whitney Hand and Aaryn Ellenberg all took their turn in front of the microphone. Afterward, everybody else sat at tables to discuss the upcoming season.
The team can be dissected and studied and pulled apart many different ways and that’s bound to happen as the campaign draws near, but the real headline coming out of Monday’s media day was how good they think they can be.
Even for a program that always talks Final Four and has been to three of them every season since 2002, this seems new.
For instance, Coale on whether or not her team can beat Brittney Griner and Baylor: “Sure.”
Or, Coale on being a dominant team (not a team that goes 9-9, 10-8, 11-7 or 12-6 or even 13-5 in the always tough Big 12 Conference, but a dominant team): “It should be … The teams in our conference are very, very tough. We need to develop a mentality that allows us to win on the road because that’s a big part of being able to get those lopsided win-loss records … But we should be. We should be.”
It stands to reason.
OU lost only Jelena Cerina to graduation, gets Jasmine Hartman and Lyndsey Cloman back from knee surgery and loves the newcomer class — Nicole Kornet, Maddie Manning, Portia Durrett — that’s arrived.
Perhaps most reassuring, though, are the explanations of Whitney Hand, who for no good reason was left off the five-player preseason All-Big 12 team, yet remains the biggest reason to believe all this confidence is warranted.
“It feels different,” she said. “You walk in the gym and there’s a different look in people’s eye … And we’re really talented. We don’t have one person that I’m like, ‘They’re OK, they’ll be there in a couple of years.’ Everyone’s there. Everyone’s prepared.”
If there was a player like that — DaShawn Harden, Katherine Zander, Jacqueline Jeffcoat all fit that bill last season (and all have left the program) — Hand wouldn’t tell us. But when she’s volunteering there isn’t one, you can believe her.
“Our goal is to win a national championship and I can say that with full confidence,” Hand said. “And you can smile and act like we don’t really mean it, but that’s my definition of success.”
I wasn’t smiling until she said that I could. But yes, we’ve heard it all before. Yes, that’s the standard Coale has insisted upon. However, no, we have not heard the chorus of we’re really serious now that way the Sooner women were talking about it Monday. And we haven’t heard Hand tell us to wipe the smile off our face (even if we weren’t yet smiling).
“Our tradition here is to win conference championships, and we haven’t done that in a while,” Hand said. “And I think me, the seniors, everyone on the team, that’s our goal. We won one my freshman year and we haven’t done it since, so we’ve had a little bit of a drought and we’re going for it.”
Here, again, it’s worth noting, Baylor is the defending national champion, Griner is the reigning player of the year and the Lady Bears are still in the conference.
Also worth noting? Hand knows this.
So, believe it if you want to. Take it to the bank if you enjoy old non-sensical sayings like “take it to the bank.”
Mostly, understand that it’s different this time around. Not because these things will happen, but because Whitney Hand does not believe they might or they could but that they should and they will. And believing in Hand has never been too difficult.
Clay HorningFollow me @email@example.com