Roland girls’ coach Bob Walters didn’t know what to expect from his Lady Rangers heading into the season.
“We are a young and inexperienced team,” said Walters, a Sequoyah County coaching veteran who graduated from Bluejacket High School.
The Lady Rangers are one of 52 teams entered in the 64th annual Northeastern A&M High School Basketball Tournament that begins Jan. 22.
For the first time in several years, all games will take place in gyms in Miami.
The NEO Fieldhouse is back on line this year, joining the NEO Student Activity Center, Civic Center and Miami High School and Will Rogers Middle School gyms.
The tournament will get a shot in the arm next year with the addition of the new Miami Activities Center, which includes an 1,800-seat gymnasium.
There are 24 boys’ teams and 28 girls’ teams entered — with Roland entering its JV boys and girls teams to help simplify the bracketing process.
“We are very excited about our start (5-0),” Walters said. “It was kinda unexpected. We graduated several girls last year, but we’ve got a good nucleus.”
Ericka Edwards, a 5-11 senior, has been a key to Roland’s quick start.
She’s averaging 27 points and eight rebounds a game.
She was the MVP of the Tahlequah Invitational last week, scoring 22, 30 and 28 points in wins over Okmulgee, Stilwell and Grove, respectively.
Another key player has been 5-5 senior point guard Jasmine Kirkwood. She earned all-tournament honors at Tahlequah and is averaging 12 points a game.
“We’ve a lot of sophomores step up,” Walter said.
Included in that group are Samantha Barnes, averaging 12 points and 7 rebounds a game, and Carlie Robertson.
Robertson had 14 points in the Lady Rangers’ season opener, then added 17 and 12 in the final two games at Tahlequah.
“We’ve been getting good leadership,” Walters said.
This will be the 37th straight year Roland has participated in the NEO hoopsfest — making it one of the oldest participants other than area schools that have competed from the outset in 1946.
“We really enjoy it — it’s good for our kids,” Walters said. “They get to get away and we get to see different teams. They love to get out of school!”