Great Expectations: North girls embrace pressure
McKinney North girls basketball head coach Michael Oldham knows there's pressure. Whether it's pressure from their state ranking, pressure from the community or pressure from his own high standards, he embraces it all.
"I embrace pressure, embrace that underdog role," he said. "I always have high expectations. This year I've got those expectations and I think people in the area have those same high expectations for us."
The Lady Bulldogs, who are 2-1 three games into this new season, are coming off a 21-13 mark last year and were No. 16 in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches preseason rankings for Class 4A. Add onto that the fact that Oldham is returning four starters, and it's understandable that great things are expected from North this year.
"Our goal is to win the district championship and to go as far into the playoffs as we can," Oldham said. "With any organization that's key, to embrace your expectations, to embrace the challenges that come before you, but still manage to have fun with what you're passionate about."
Oldham's players are just as tenacious as their coach, ready to take on any challenge at any time.
"Teams usually take on their coach's character after a while," he said. "I've been with these girls for two and three years now, so I know they feel the same way I do. If I was to say, 'Let's go play the best team in the state,' they'd ask what time does the bus leave. That's how we approach our season."
While some coaches frequently rotate starting spots for various reasons, Oldham said his starting five will likely remain the same for much of the year. The Lady Bulldogs starting five is made up of guard Alexis Mason, forward Mikaehla Connor, guard Jocelyn Scott, forward Amy Kleynhans and forward Chanterria Jackson.
Specifically, the Lady Bulldogs' offense begins with Mason as the point guard.
"We go offensively the way she goes," Oldham said. "She can score and has a great knack of getting it to others when she needs to. Our offense starts with her."
While Oldham likes his team's offensive presence, he concedes they must be just as strong defensively if they expect a deep playoff run.
"We have a lot of offensive weapons, but any team's strength has to be its defense if you want to be a championship caliber team," he said. "We do have some scorers. We're blessed with some players who are natural scorers, they seem to be in the right place at the right time, but defense will be something we also have to focus on. That's what will help us win the big games."
Oldham knows the frequency of big games is not limited to just the playoffs, especially with several prominent non-district opponents scheduled in addition to a tough district slate.
"Our schedule is loaded with top notch 5A programs, state champions," Oldham said. "These kids, they know why I put them through these tests, they know it's for the ultimate goal, so when we're playing in the biggest game of the year when it counts, they can look back on these experiences that they've had. They know what it's about. They're smart kids."
Among the Lady Bulldogs' top district competition is Lovejoy, who's new to District 13-4A, to go with Wylie and Wylie East.
"Lovejoy may be new but they're a good team and Wylie has been a thorn in our side the last few years," Oldham said. "I think we're 0-4 against them in district play. They're going to be a big challenge. And Wylie East has really improved over the last two years. They'll be playing really good basketball. So I think those are going to be some of our toughest challenges in district."
While there may be pressure, Oldham doesn't want his players to lose sight of the love they have for the game.
"The other thing is I want them to have fun," he said. "I don't want the pressure to impede on their ability to play the game because they all have such great passion for it. I don't ever want that to be stunted due to the pressure."
While the new season may be young, Oldham is encouraged by his team's depth and experience and likes their chances when the playoffs roll around.
"I know they embrace the challenge and you like that out of your team," he said. "It's a long process and being only a few games in it's hard to tell, but my gut tells me this team is going to be really strong in February. That's what we're looking toward."