May 19—VANOSS — Gone was Emrie Ellis, who played her freshman season at the University of Arkansas and competed against both the University of Connecticut and South Carolina — the two teams that battled for the national championship.
Gone was Emily Wilson, who had a superb freshman campaign for the East Central University women's basketball team, averaging nearly 11 points and four rebounds per contest. She was even better than that down the stretch.
Gone was Lizzy Simpson, a double-double machine who played well during her freshman year at Northern Oklahoma College-Enid.
Gone are fellow starters Rileigh Rush and Abbi Snow, who were great contributors to their high school team just a year ago.
The Vanoss High School basketball team lost all that talent and still reeled off a 22-5 record and made it back to the state tournament ranked No. 5 in Class A.
That feat helped Jonathon Hurt become the 2022 Ada News All-Area Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
"That group was kind of always under scrutiny," Hurt said. "I think because we didn't win state, a lot of people forget how good that team was. But it was one of the most dominant four-year runs probably a team has had at the small-school level."
Which brings us to Hurt's 2021-22 bunch. There were plenty of folks in the Class A corners that didn't give the Lady Wolves a chance at making another run to the state tournament.
Hurt knew the firepower he was sitting on. If everything came together, he fully expected his latest girls to be in the hunt for a Class A state title.
"Last summer I was telling some people at the coaches clinic that they were going to think I was crazy, but I thought we were going to be really, really good by the end of next year and I expect to be in the state tournament," he said.
Things didn't start off the greatest for the Lady Wolves, mostly due to the injury bug.
Projected starters Maddi Faust (foot), Riley Reed (back) and Avery Ellis (torn meniscus) all missed time with different ailments for a good portion of the season.
"I'm not going to lie. Early in the year I was concerned," Hurt said. "Not only did we have a bunch of new faces, but we also had a bunch of kids coming off fairly significant injuries. We had a lot of things to work through to get to where we ended up."
Hurt credited his two seniors — scoring machine Alexus Belcher and Maddi Dansby — for providing leadership for his inexperienced squad.
"These girls set the bar high and worked hard every day in practice. Those kids really expected and believed they would be back in the state tournament," he said. "They bought into what we were doing. Because of our past success, I think these girls just expected to win every time they touched the floor."
Hurt said his fan base, due to his highly successful teams of the past, now has high expectations for the Lady Wolves year in and year out. That caused added pressure to his players.
"I don't think a lot of people understand, but when you're at a school this size and a community of this size, regardless of what you lost everybody still expects you to be (at the state tournament)," he explained. "There was pressure on those kids. Even though many outside of here thought they lost those five kids and won't be as good, here there were still expectations and a lot of pressure on those kids because you don't want to be the group that comes through and lets everybody down."
Hurt said he taught his player to embrace that pressure. And that's exactly what the 2021-22 Lady Wolves did.
"That's (pressure) a good thing though. I tell the kids pressure is a privilege. I'd rather have pressure and have something to live up to than not have any," he said.