NORMAN — Southmoore’s road to the state tournament has been a long and arduous one for senior Kayla Tucker. As one of the few members of the SaberCats who has been with the team the last four years, she has seen the program at its lowest.
But as Tucker is on the verge of ending her high school career, she said the turbulent times prepared her to lead a young Sabercats squad to new heights.
“It means it was all worth it to go through those three years and everything that I’ve been through,” Tucker said. “All the hard work we have put in, it just makes it worth it.”
In the three previous seasons, the SaberCats racked up a combined 21-42 record under Mark Harmon and Derek Dorris. But she said the low point came during the middle of her junior season. Even though the team had an 11-12 record, she said the “turmoil” the team endured all but made it a lost year.
The Southmoore transformation started during the offseason when Britney Kannady-Sayes was hired as the team’s new head coach. She was the third coach in four years for Tucker.
But Kannady-Sayes and her staff quickly raised the expectations of the team and helped squash any issues that were carried over from the previous seasons.
“It’s definitely been hard the past three years, and all we’ve been through it,” Tucker said. “But it’s definitely worth it now having coach Sayes here and getting this chance and opportunity to win a state title my senior year. That makes it all worth it.”
Even though she has known Tucker for less than a full year, Kannady-Sayes has marveled at the growth of her top player. From signing a National Letter of Intent to Alabama State to making it to state, she said Tucker deserves it all.
“She has been amazing all year,” Kannady-Sayes said. “Everything she’s had to go through has made her the strong player and person that she is. As a coach, I couldn’t be more happy and it couldn’t come to a better person and player than Kayla.”
However, this has been far from a one-woman wrecking crew. The SaberCats have a balanced inside-out attack that is keyed upon the play of sophomores Kyeria Hannah and Serithia Hawkins. While both 6-foot-1 sophomores have cleaned up on the backboards, Hawkins has been particularly effective as a scoring threat. That included posting 22 points in Saturday’s area tournament.
“She just keeps fighting,” Kannady-Sayes said. “She is getting hammered every time. She is getting double- and triple-teamed. Just stay the course. She has done that and she’s fought. She is a heck of a ball player as a sophomore.”
Senior Kyra Gilbert and junior Cydni Campbell round out the starting five and have provided strong defense and timely shooting. Senior Bailey Olsen and freshman Jamia Sheppard come off the bench to provide Southmoore with a little depth and a change of pace.
“When the season started I knew we were going to be better than we have been in the past years,” Campbell said. “The new coaching staff and new attitudes with each other, I imagined that we would do really good but I never imagined we would have a chance at getting a ring.”
Southmoore will face Booker T. Washington in the quarterfinals of the 6A state tournament at 7 p.m. today at Skiatook High. It’s the farthest any girls team has gone in the short history of the program. But they are not settling for just making it to the big dance.
“It’s a Cinderella story,” Tucker said. “Nobody expected us to be here. It was full of surprises. We surprised ourselves in how we progressed so quickly this year. But I never would have expected it the way things were going my freshman year. Especially after my sophomore and junior year, I wouldn’t have expected us to be in this place.”
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