Conference champs: Rookie coach leads Lady Highlanders to 2A-1 title
By Scott Loftis
In his first year as a head basketball coach, Ryan Sanchez took over a Eureka Springs girls program that had recorded just nine victories over the past four seasons.
Today, Sanchez’s Lady Highlanders are 2A-1 conference champions. And not only does Sanchez say he’s not surprised, but he’s also not satisfied.
“That’s what we talked about in August,” he said of the conference title. “We talked about it again this week and now we want to win the district tournament.”
The Lady Highlanders (22-12, 8-2 2A-1) clinched the regular-season championship with a pair of home victories this week, beating Cotter 55-32 on Monday and Haas Hall Academy 57-11 on Tuesday.
Junior forward Megan Holloway had 22 points and 11 rebounds against Cotter while freshman guard Olivia Cross added 12 points on four three-pointers. In the victory over Haas Hall, junior forward Shelby Little scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds while Holloway added 13 points and six rebounds and junior guard Gracie Lester scored 11 points.
Holloway and Little have been reliable scorers in the post all season for the Lady Highlanders, while Cross, Lester, junior forward Grayson Ertel and junior guard Katelyn Ross provide perimeter offense.
While the Lady Highlanders don’t have a single senior on their roster, Sanchez pointed out that Holloway, Lester, Ertel and Ross have been playing together since the sixth grade. He said he knew when he took the coaching job that the potential was there for a breakthrough season.
“I already knew the athleticism was there, and the size,” he said.
His competitive energy has been matched — and reflected — by his team.
“All I ask of the girls is to give me their best attitude and give me their best effort,” he said.
Moving forward, Sanchez said it’s important for the Lady Highlanders to maintain their identity on the court and not get caught up in trying to do too much.
“I just reminded them that we need to remember who we are and what got us here,” he said.
As conference champions, Eureka Springs qualifies automatically for the Class 2A West Regional Tournament that begins Feb. 20 in Danville. The Lady Highlanders received a first-round bye in the 2A-1 conference tournament at Yellville and will play at 4 p.m. Tuesday against the winner of Monday’s game between Flippin and Yellville-Summit.