Being the Hunted
Fear is an excellent motivator. The primal instinct resides deep in our being, yet instantaneously reacts when a challenge arises. As we continue to be exposed, it establishes a complex set of recall processes that our key to our survival. However, fear is tragically uncomfortable. Fear can paralyze.
There are a few common fears, subcategorized into thousands upon thousands of phobias. Karl Albrecht, Ph.D., wrote that there are five basic fears. One limited from physical stimulus is the fear of ego death: “a fear of humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the self.”
In any contest to one’s standing at the top, at least half the battle resides between the ears.
SETTING THE GOAL
The Sooners were selected the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 women’s basketball regular season title in a vote of the league’s head coaches (coaches were not permitted to vote for their own teams). OU tallied five first-place votes, landing on top of half of the coaches’ ballots.
It was the fourth time the Sooners have topped the preseason rankings. OU was also picked No. 1 in 2001-02, 2006-07 and 2008-09 and won at least a share of the Big 12 championship in each of those seasons.
There is no mistaking what the expectation has become after three seasons without adding to their trophy case.
“There’s history here and you want to be a part of it,” senior Aaryn Ellenberg said. “We don’t want to be the only class to not cut down a net.”
“They understand the expectation and they embrace it,” OU head coach Sherri Coale said. “I think this senior class had the disadvantage of playing their entire careers in the league with Britney Griner, truthfully. They understand that they have a bit of a window, maybe. It does make the league a little bit different.”
Stacey Dales, Caton Hill, LaNeishea Caufield, Phylesha Whaley, Rosalind Ross, Leah Rush, Ashley and Courtney Paris, Amanda Thompson, Danielle Robinson, and Whitney Hand -- members of OU’s championship teams had palpable qualities that radiated to their teammates.
“They were gritty, they were confident, and they held each other accountable.”
More often than not, Sooners are in the championship hunt. Oklahoma has claimed a league-leading six regular season conference titles and four Big 12 Tournament crowns. Each of those teams had an undeniable will to win, all comprised of different characteristics.
“It’s different with every group. Personally, I prefer it,” Coale said. “I want to be the one that’s expected to win. But every team has its own personality and you have to approach everyone differently.”
A HISTORY LESSON
The championship legacy at Oklahoma was not built overnight, but its essence overwhelms those who walk inside the locker room within microseconds.
One cannot dribble on the practice court, change shoes in locker room, or enter the main arena without being engulfed by visions of dreams realized. This is by design.
The banners on the wall act as a road map for past successes. An NCAA Tournament appearance followed the next season by a Sweet 16 finish followed by a Final Four. Over and over again until a dynasty is formed. Portraits litter the walls. In these photos, trophies are being hoisted and nets are being cut from rims. Script of championships won and the habits that allowed them covers every crevice.
“It’s all relative. I think it’s a very personal reaction. I think, for some kids, they see all that and there’s an immediate pressure and an expectation. And that can come with its bags of tricks. For some kids, they come in and it gives them confidence. They put on this jersey and they become invincible.”
It’s safe to say that mediocrity is not allowed within the walls of the Lloyd Noble Center.
“Coach Coale put it on us seniors that we’ll be the only class to not cut down a net, if we don’t cut one down this year,” senior Morgan Hook said. “I think for us four seniors, there’s more determination.”
CLASS IS BACK IN SESSION
Players traveled back to Norman Friday morning and returned to the court that evening. The Sooners retraced their steps traveled thus far this season. They revisited their season goals, the ways to achieve them, and adjusted their plan after 12 games worth of study revealed some issues.
“Well, the positive things is we’ve played some really good teams who have exposed our weaknesses,” Coale said. “We know exactly what we need to do and so there are no surprises going into conference play.”
Oklahoma is 8-4 entering its final pre-conference game versus Samford Sunday, Dec. 29, at 2 p.m. The Sooners counted defeats at home to then-No. 5 Louisville and No. 2 Duke and on the road at UCLA and Marist.
“I really think it’s a blessing that we’ve found ourselves in this situation because we have been exposed. There’s a tendency when you always play teams that are not capable of beating you that you have diseases that go untreated and they eat you up and you can’t fix it. We’ve got a diagnosis early enough that we can work on it.”
Always the teacher, Coale has a brief period to refocus her team for the remainder of a season-long education.
“They have to learn what their trump card is. They have to learn what that thing is that they have to be able to hang their hat on, that they can do better than anybody else in the world. Sometimes that’s a hard riddle to solve. Especially, when you’re potential says you can do a lot of things -- you could this, you could do that -- you have a tendency to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. I think it’s that identification process of what you really have to make your own. That’s probably the hardest thing.”
Those lessons, when properly learned, end with a graduation that involves climbing the rungs of a ladder and cutting strands of a net.
“It’s been a long time since I have,” Coale said, “so I’m looking forward to doing that again.”