A rough season for Chickasha is about to get even rougher.
A visit to No. 5 Lawton-MacArthur beckons on Friday in the first round of regionals. Like many of the teams they have faced, the Highlanders have more experience and more height. But also like those teams, the Fightin' Chicks are not intimidated.
"I think we realize we have nothing to lose," said forward Levi Kel. "We can shock the world by beating Lawton-Mac, and we've shown our strength against some of the better teams in the state. So, we don't think we should be down on ourselves or playing for next year. We still have this year."
It's been a season full of hard-fought performances. They weren't always wins, many were close (nine decided by five points or less), but despite some deficiencies of a growing team, Chickasha always managed to make a game out of it.
"We lack consistency," assistant coach Jerry Don Bray said. "We play good in spurts, and that comes with youth. But, our guys compete, so that always gives us a chance. We've just got to be more consistent in the little things we do."
This will be most evident on Friday. The biggest key to a victory, Bray said, is keeping turnovers low, and that's after watching the Highlanders in the Altus tournament last month.
"They're athletic, long, like to press, and create a lot of turnovers and cause some havoc," Bray said. "We have a good idea of what they want to do to us going in, and we feel like we've prepared well for that this week. If we limit the turnovers, it'll give us a chance to win."
It'll make the points Chickasha scores more valuable, and there's no doubting Chickasha will score. Head coach Nathan Pennypacker likes a fast-paced offense that runs the floor well, and it is almost always led by the two guards, sophomore Brandon Shumway and freshman Brock Henderson.
Henderson is coming off of some solid performances, including a 30-point outing at Western Heights last week. While the team as a whole has fought to stay in games as much as they have this season, Henderson is no doubt a big source of offensive production.
"I was just hoping to contribute off the bench and play a little bit," Henderson said about his success this season. "I feel like I've helped my team a lot, and they've helped me to be a better player."
Henderson said he also thinks the challenge of playing against the No. 5 ranked team in a do-or-die playoff scenario will be one the Fightin' Chicks will rise up to, given their recent history.
"You've been to our games and know that we play better against better teams," he said. "We start out good, but we haven't been able to finish. If we can play a full-game together as a team, we always have a chance to win. We haven't been able to do that lately."
On offense, ball movement will be a key against Lawton-Mac, Henderson said, given their 1-3-1 zone defense.
But defensively is where key battles will be won. This is where Chickasha's lack of size will be most apparent, and players like Kel and Cole Young, who Pennypacker has singled out at times this season for acting as a silent hero, will need to be at their best. Kel said the training for the front-court has been especially stringent, on both sides of the ball, this week.
"We've had a bunch of pressure on us, multiple people guarding us to make our practices a lot harder," Kel said. "The key to beating them is pump faking and not getting scared."