By Tony Burns
Strong’s girls basketball team advanced to the 1A State Tournament last year. Although they didn’t win it, the Lady Bulldogs discovered something very important - they belong on that stage.
Coach Jason Porter’s crew will return to the Big Dance today when they take on Alpena at 1 p.m. in the 1A State Tournament, hosted by Wonderview High School in Morrilton.
“Last year we had a great week at state. Finished in the top eight,” said Porter. “I have felt a business-like feel from them this week so far in practice. I truly believe this group has no fear. If you asked each one of them they would say we could win the entire thing. It would take each one of them playing at there max potential. I’m expecting that. So are they.
“We have been on a mission all year to get back to state. All these girls have wanted all year was to have a chance to compete for a state title. We look forward to the challenge.”
The 17-12 Lady Leopards are a familiar foe for Strong.
“We played them last year in the second round. We beat them 61-43. They have basically the same team,” said Porter. “Their best player is a junior - Allie Dean. Kind of a slasher type that has good quickness, averages about 16. They also have a big post player, a six footer with some good size. I have watched three films on them. We will have the quickness advantage. We are going to look to push the ball and try to get some early offense off of our fast break.”
Alpena is the No. 3 seed from the 1A Region 1 Tournament after losing to Jasper (57-53) in the semifinals and beating Lead Hill (56-45) in the third place game.
Strong (21-6) the runner-up from 1A Region 5, lost to Ouachita 43-33 in Saturday’s championship game. Fatigue appeared to be a factor after back-to-back days of intense basketball. It could be a concern this week, too.
“I have basically played five players all year,” said Porter. “When you do that you will have fatigue at some point in a game. The girls know that. It’s my job to see that and get a timeout or change up what we are doing defensively or pressure wise. We have been working on conditioning and free throws this week.”
The Lady Bulldogs do have some extra depth with the addition of ninth graders from the junior high team.
“My six footer, (freshman) Chrishunda Williams will see a lot of action versus Alpena,” Porter said. “She has been giving me a lot of energy this week in practice. With Alpena having their own six footer, I’m gonna need that size inside. Chrishunda will come off the bench. She has had great week of practice.”