From a championship standpoint, it was a down year in Kingfisher County.
The 2022-23 basketball season has come and gone.
Fourteen teams (seven girls, seven boys) raised gold balls at center court of either State Fair Arena or Lloyd Noble Center.
For the first time since 2018, none of them resided in Kingfisher County.
It’s just the sixth time beginning with the 2000 state championships that no county team has won a title.
Eighteen years with at least one.
Only six without. Yeah, we’re spoiled here.
Lomega’s girls got the closest.
Of the county’s 12 teams, the Lady Raiders were the only ones to play on championship Saturday where they were eventually held off by No. 1 Hammon.
It was Lomega’s fourth straight year to play for the championship and second time in a row to “settle” for the silver ball.
Even in a place like Lomega where championships are not dreamed of, but expected, playing four straight years in the state championship game is an unreal feat.
Again, we are spoiled around here and can often take it for granted just how tough that is to do.
But that was the reality for Lomega’s seniors this year: Two state titles and two runner-up finishes.
That’s an absolutely stellar run, even if the sting of losing the title game still persists.
I know it still does for one of those seniors, Darcy Roberts.
I saw Darcy sitting by herself in the stands at the Kingfisher County Stock Show as some of her friends were showing sheep.
I knew Darcy to be involved in that world as well, so I asked her what she was showing this year.
She informed me she wasn’t showing this year.
Between classes at Lomega, college classes, basketball, a part-time job and showing, something had to give this year, she said.
Although she said she missed it, showing sheep got pushed aside.
Basketball meant more to her than showing, so she dedicated her rare spare time to giving that her full attention and set her sights on bringing the gold ball back “home.”
And it almost happened… but it didn’t.
When it didn’t, it hit Darcy hard.
As the final seconds were ticking off the clock in the title game, the reality set in and the emotions took over.
I happened to have a camera in my hand and I caught those moments… those tough moments. I snapped a couple dozen photos of the emotion overcoming Darcy, one of them showed the Hammon team dogpiling in the background after the final buzzer.
I ran it on the front page of our newspaper in the following edition.
While we always want to celebrate the successes, my goal was also to show the reality of when things don’t go our way.
Before running the photo, I had a bit of an internal struggle. Should we run something that could be deemed in a negative light in a community newspaper?
Was it too harsh? Was it fair to Darcy?
But for the stated reasons, I ran the photo. I wondered if I would get any negative feedback from the Lomega community.
I did not. After giving her a few days to process the defeat, I did email Darcy.
I told her about the photos I took and why I took them. I let her know that if she wanted them, I’d be happy to share them.
I also said I would completely understand if she - not her words, but mine told me to shove them under the pile of manure they had to haul off from the OYE barns.
She said that day was, in fact, terrible for her. Then she offered this: “I would love to have the pictures…I know that the tears are simply just my passion for the game shining through and one day I will look back and be so thankful for every single picture capturing all those amazing memories.”
As impressive as Darcy’s career was - the aforementioned team success, a state tournament MVP honor and 1,746 career points and 978 career rebounds to name a few - that sentence from Darcy may have been even more impressive.
I said all year that if the Dover girls got sent to an area other than Lomega’s, they’d have an outside shot of reaching the state tournament.
The only good news with this year’s playoff assignments was that the two weren’t put into the same district again or forced to play the first round of regionals.
Instead, they met in the regional finals and by that time Dover had already secured a spot at area for the first time in over a dozen years.
And they won a game at area…and then pushed a top-eight team in Arnett well into the second half of their consolation semifinal.
With pretty much the entire cast returning next year, Matt Peck and his Lady Longhorns certainly won’t be flying under the radar, but it shouldn’t matter.
They’ll be a team to keep an eye on…one that very well could be making its own way into that ever-precious top-eight by the time next year’s assignments are announced.
If that happens, maybe just maybe - we’ll see them make a run to the state tournament for the first time since playing in seven - yes, 7!!!! - straight state title games.
Another team that’s got pretty much everyone back? Cashion.
The Lady Wildcats were a modest 10-13 when the 2A playoffs began.
They started those playoffs with an 18-point win over the 16th-ranked team in the class.
Then they won their first round regional game by 20 points before having to play No. 1 Dale in the regional final.
It didn’t go Cashion’s way, but Andrea Taylor’s team was still back in the area tournament.
Once there, Cashion beat Chouteau and Wewoka to remarkably get within one win of qualifying for the state tournament.
All the momentum was on their side, but…..
Sixth-ranked Warner shocked Dale in the area finals, ending the Lady Pirates’ 27-game win streak.
That meant Cashion had to play a highly-agitated Dale team in the area consolation championship game.
It was the teams’ fourth time to match up this season, including the third time in just over two weeks.
Dale won handily - and then went on to win the state championship - but Cashion served notice with its useful squad that next season could very well be one to offer more successes.
What did the Cashion girls have in common this season with the Kingfisher boys and girls, Lomega girls and Okarche girls?
All were eliminated by their respective state champion.
Speaking of the Lady Warriors...
I have no doubt they were destined to be a state tournament team.
However, their season easily could have swung a different way after the second day of the Tournament of Champions.
The Lady Warriors were dealt losses by Bixby and Holland Hall to open the tournament.
Despite a major injury, Bixby quaified for the 6A state tournament.
Holland Hall was in 4A at the time, eventually got bumped up to 5A midseason and got all the way to that state title game.
The Lady Warriors rebounded from those losses to put a 16-point thumping on Pocola on the final day of the tournament.
Coming home with a win on the last day feels a lot better than doing so with three straight losses (Pocola was No. 1 in 2A at the time and, related or not, ended up not qualifying for state).
Coach Haley Mitchel said as much both after that win and after her team qualified for state: The Lady Warriors used that final day as a springboard for the rest of the season.
The numbers back it up. Okarche was 7-4 at the conclusion of the TOC.
The Lady Warriors went 17-2 the rest of the way.
The lone defeats were to Amber-Pocasset, which lost to Dale in the 2A semifinals, and to Seiling in the Class A semifinals.
The Ladycats, of course, went on to win state.
Along the way, Okarche went undefeated in its conference, won the conference tournament and avenged a loss to Vanoss in the area finals...among its many accomplishments.
I’m excited to see what the Hennessey and Okarche boys can do next season.
The Eagles made a run to the 2A state tournament and were dealt a last-second loss in the quarterfinals.
They’re losing some key players to graduation, especially considering how well Layton Choate played down the stretch.
However, there’s also a very solid core of Eagles returning and we’ve already seen - multiple times - what coach Brady Page can do with his talent.
Okarche may have laid the foundation for years to come with its run to the Class A quarterfinals.
The Warriors had just one senior - P.K. Harris - on their roster...and he was a good one.
However, the wealth of young talent at Okarche is abundant for coach Aaron West.
The Warriors got a taste of the state tournament and not having the kind of showing they expected no doubt will fuel them next season.
However, nothing’s a given.
The story in Okarche is also being told at every other school that qualified for Class A state: They’re all young and that includes the champ, Caddo.
Just getting to state next year is going to be a chore. Winning it will have to be earned.
The good new for Okarche is the Warriors have the tools to make a real run at it.