Deer Creek coach Totsy Manning never wavered from her strategy.
An 0-2 start to the season? Not changing.
Losses to Shawnee and Harrah in early January? Still not changing.
Manning still preached defense to the Antlers, and that ultimately paid off as they won their second straight Class 5A title in March and fifth overall despite being a heavy underdog.
And for her guidance, Manning is this year’s Super 5 Coach of the Year.
“No one thought we could probably win it this year and a lot of people were still skeptical about the year before,” Manning said. “We started playing our best basketball in January and that’s when we really started to believe we could be playing on Saturday and defending our state championship.
“We lay our foundation on defense and they adapted and adjusted to the teams we played. To put three games back-to-back like that is really tough and three solid teams like that is just really amazing. I’m so proud of what they were able to accomplish.”
Deer Creek finished the year 24-5, winning 11 straight games. Its last loss came Jan. 25 against Putnam North in the championship of the Bruce Gray Invitational.
For a team many felt had little shot at knocking off heavy favorite Shawnee, it was a surprise on the outside looking in.
For Manning and the Antlers, though, there was no surprise.
“You just always have to believe in yourself and your teammates,” junior Dakota Vann said. “At first it looks a little rocky, but you never give up on your teammates or yourself.
“The only way we could have got the state championship was those long practices working really hard. She pushed us, no doubt.”
Stifling defense was the key, too.
The Antlers held their three state tournament opponents to an average of 31 points, while scoring just 39.7 points per game. And each game the defense improved, holding rival Piedmont to 36 points, then Shawnee to 29 and Tulsa East Central to 28.
“We knew it would be low-scoring games,” Manning said. “Once you get to the state tournament, generally there’s fatigue but the teams that can play defense and get stops more often are the teams that can come out and win.
“We knew if we kept them low-scoring, shut down some of the main players on certain teams, we’d have a chance to come out and win those games.”
Manning’s strategy never faltered, and neither did her faith in her team.
“We don’t listen to the naysayers,” she said. “Our kids completely believed they can win.”
The players also believed completely in Manning.
“She never gave up,” Vann said. “She always believes in us and she pushes us. I think her faith in us just helps a lot. She was always there 100 percent. Lose games, win games, we always knew what we had to do to get better.”