Unfinished Business: Lady Lions Intent on Trip to State TournamentJan 14, 2020
It was a tough moment for the Moore Lady Lions last February as they fell just short of a trip to the 6A state basketball tournament. The Lady Lions fell to Page High School 57-43 that night. Head coach Brent Hodges says loss hurt but has become a significant source of motivation for this season.
"I think we've started this year with the end in mind," said Hodges. "We have a lot of returning players, and I think we have everything we need to make a deep run in the tournament and contend for a gold ball."
Hodges says the entire state is now aware of just how potentially good this Lady Lions team is. They're loaded with size, speed, and talent and aren't going to sneak up on anyone. That means they're going to get the best effort from every team they face.
"When you have some talented and hard-working players like we do, it's going to get everyone's attention," said Hodges. "For us, that means we just have to be even more focused and work together to get this done."
Juniors Aaliyah Moore and Raychael Harjo are two of those talented players Hodges points to. Both are being recruited by multiple D1 schools, and Moore played on the USA 16-Under team this summer at the FIBA U16 America's tournament in Chile, winning a gold medal. Neither Moore nor Harjo is taking anything for granted this year.
"It was definitely disappointing last year," said Moore, "We did look back and realize that we need to go harder this year. But we've been looking forward since then and are expecting a lot from each other."
Harjo says this team embraces those high expectations and is turning the energy from that into some profound effort in practices.
"I love playing with this group of girls," said Harjo. "We really work hard together, and I think our energy is really great. We do need to be more disciplined, but I think we're working hard on that."
Hodge says those harder practices are by design. One of his goals going into the year was to turn up the heat in practices, especially on the defensive end.
"We've done a lot of defensive conditioning and focused on some things that we struggled with late in the year last year," said Hodges. "So we're working on that defensive mindset and being more disciplined in every facet of what we do on the court."
For Harjo, it's that mental part of the game that she has embraced.
"I have a pretty good idea of the things I need to work on," said Harjo. "For me, it's just being more mentally prepared to go into battle and to support my teammates as much as I can, helping them stay focused every day."
The harder practices and the more intense focus are also a welcome step for Moore, especially when it comes to paying attention to the details.
"It's crazy how much the little things matter," said Moore, "But they really do. Paying attention that detail as a team and as individuals, even something as simple as warming up. It seems like a simple thing, but warming up really does set the tone physically and mentally for how you're going to start the game, so we want to warm up with focus and energy."
Both Harjo and Moore say they love the friendships and bonds they've found on this team and believe that's something that's only going to get stronger as the season goes on.
"We've really come together as a team," said Harjo. "Even in the middle of hard practices when we're running and about to drop, we pick each other up and encourage one another."
Moore said, "There's pretty much no tension on this team. We genuinely like each other and get along great."
That closeness is going to come in handy as the team rolls into regional and area tournaments in February. A year will have passed since the Lady Lions lost that area tournament game. They're determined to learn the hard lessons from last year and turn it into better performances on the court in 2020.
"We're taking it game by game," said Moore, "But we definitely have the highest of expectations for this year. Our goals are to win our John Noble Tournament, host a regional, and make it to state. We truly believe we can get that gold ball at the end."
Harjo said, "Getting that gold ball is the goal. We feel like we have everything we need to make it to the state finals. We just have to stay focused and work hard to get there."