DALE – Coach Eric Smith didn’t know what he got himself into.
He was coming off a state runner-up finish in Class A with the Frontier Lady Mustangs when he decided to head south on State Highway 177 and take over the Dale High School girls’ basketball program.
However, anyone who knows Oklahoma small school basketball knows that was no small task.
Dale has the fourth most state championships of any girls’ program in the state and has played in 65 state tournament games in its tradition-rich history.
Smith had nearly every player back from that Frontier team, yet he left to go to a program that had lost three starters and returned two underclassmen. So, why did he do it? One word.
Smith had been the face of quality programs like Alva and Frontier, but he had never coached at what most people in Oklahoma consider a “blue blood” program.
Until he moved to Dale.
As if taking over one of the state’s best programs wasn’t a big enough task, look at taking over that program and facing a ranked opponent nearly every night, and there stands Smith and his Lady Pirates.
Many around the Dale program had the feeling of a down year in the works for this group after losing arguably two of the best senior classes in program history the last two years.
This group and Smith had other plans.
Starting this season on the road at Preston High School, another tradition-rich program in Class 2A, the Lady Pirates showed no sign of that tradition or legacy ending any time soon.
The Lady Pirates hit 13 3-point field goals and routed Preston 84-45 inside the Preston Activity Center.
Then something happened no one really expected.
The first rankings provided from the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association came out, and the Dale girls were ranked No. 2 in Class 2A.
The Lady Pirates have now beat Class 2A No. 9 Latta 57-41, 2A No. 10 Amber-Pocasset 60-34 and most recently Class A No. 5 Okarche 58-40.
So, how does this bunch of girls stay motivated and focused?
“Well, we knew everyone was going to doubt us going into this season because we have lost so many good players these past few years,” Maddie Degraffenreid, a Dale senior, said. “All of the doubt has just been the biggest motivation.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier, either and Smith knows that.
“If we don’t show up we will get out tail beat,” said Smith. “Defense and rebounding have to be a staple. You have to be able to win games when you don’t shoot well.”
Dale has the potential to face 3A No. 2 Kingston and 4A No. 4 Elgin next week in the Oklahoma Baptist Tournament.
The Lady Pirates then square off with two common opponents before they head into the Christmas break.
One is Class 2A’s No. 16 Luther, a team that handed the Lady Pirates both of their playoff losses last year and the other 3A No. 4 Christian Heritage Academy, the team that won the 2A title the last two years, one of those over the Lady Pirates.
The Lady Pirates will hit the road Friday in the I-40 showdown at rival Bethel with a 6:30 tipoff.