Following Norman High’s 47-46 loss to Edmond Memorial last Thursday, coach Cory Cole saw a different reaction from his team compared to previous games.
He saw frustration, but it meant something bigger.
His team is invested.
“The Memorial game was the first time this season they had tears after a loss,” Cole said Thursday. “It hurt. It stung. With all those excuses we had, we still should have, we could have won this game. After a tough loss, you have guys with tears ‘they care’, the “I can’t wait to play tomorrow” [kind of] tears.”
The apology Cole refers to centered around his team being shorthanded, with two rotational players missing the game. But that didn’t stop the team from challenging the Bulldogs, the top-ranked Class 6A team in the quarter-finals of the Bishop McGuinness Classic.
The Tigers (3-7) held a lead for most of the game and had a chance to win on final possession, but the Bulldogs fired crucial shots down the stretch to escape with a point ahead.
Despite the loss, it felt like a turning point for the Tigers and a sign that they were improving. For example, the Bulldogs beat the Tigers by 29 points when the teams first met in November.
“It was important to us because a lot of teams – a lot of people in the state – don’t expect us to do this because of our past history,” NH goalkeeper Lendy Holmes said. . “For us to go out and get ahead of the No.1 team, that’s pretty important for us.”
The Tigers kept that momentum going for the rest of the tournament. The following game, the Tigers handballed Bishop McGuinness (8-3), the No. 7 ranked 5A side, before ending the tournament with a 53-48 victory over 6A No. 15 Choctaw ( 5-6).
“Losing that first game all at once made us think, ‘Man, we can’t lose these next two games. said Holmes. “So we really wanted to earn them not just for ourselves, but just for the program in general.
“The fact that we beat those teams shows everyone how far we’ve come as a program and gave us a chance to show people that we can be a top team too if we all play together and Let’s move the ball. Eventually, good things will come our way.
To say the Tigers need that kind of confidence and momentum is an understatement.
The team lost six of its first seven games, as the team struggled to adapt to new players and a new attacking system. But on closer inspection, there was reason to be optimistic.
Those six losses came against teams ranked in Classes 5A and 6A. Of those six losses, three of them were by four points or less.
And over Christmas break, Cole saw something start to click with his team. The attack was going better in training. The teammates were trying to pass the ball.
“I think guys could kind of see it coming over Christmas,” Cole said. “These guys are starting to understand things, things like role identification, program expectations… They’ve understood the urgency that we have to play with. Every game means something.
This momentum continued in the classic McGuinness. Senior NHS striker Connor Goodson said the tournament gave the team an opportunity to gel.
“We have some new players this year and we’re still phased, but I think this tournament has been really good for us because we’ve played a lot of games in a short time,” Goodson said. “So we had a lot of opportunities to play with each other and I think we really started to understand things.”
That momentum will be put to the test tonight. The Tigers have another tough home game against Moore (8-3), ranked No. 5 in Class 6A.
But for Cole, it’s another opportunity for his team to show they are improving.
“Now we have a chance to come in and show that we can compete with anybody,” Cole said. “All we have to do is bring it. The sound will say whatever they are going to say. Once you start thinking that, you start following it.
“These guys are starting to get it. I told them before the season started that we had enough talent to make the state tournament. We do. No one on the outside has to think that, but if we just mind our own business instead of letting our stuff run us, we will. Because we’re going to have our guys ready to play.