New coach looking to breathe positivity into SM East girls basketball program

SM East girls basketball coach Lauren Lawrence is trying to build a culture of winning.
SM East girls basketball coach Lauren Lawrence is trying to build a culture of winning at 7500 Mission Road.

As Lauren Lawrence was nearing the end of her college years — and thus her college basketball career — at the University of Oklahoma in 2010 and 2011, Sooners coach Sherri Coale planted a seed about where Lawrence might focus her attention in the future.

Coale started out as a high school English teacher at Norman High School before moving on to the college level, where she’s led Oklahoma to a .675 winning percentage since taking over in 1997. Lawrence, Coale thought, had what it takes to be a great coach and teacher, as well.

Four years later, Lawrence is following in Coale’s footsteps, and happy to give credit to her former coach and mentor for giving her the nudge. She began teaching English at SM East at the start of the year, and for the past month has been piloting the girls basketball in her first season as a high school head coach.

“[Coach Coale] is the one who tried talking me into the profession,” Lawrence said. “I try to emulate what she does. We take the blueprint she has at college and move it to the high school level.”

Of course, Lawrence and the Lancers face a steep hill to get on a winning track. The girls basketball team went 1-20 in 2014-2015, a tumultuous year that saw then-head coach Austin Klumpe depart before the season was over. Now, Lawrence says, she and her team are focused on creating an expectation of winning, a shift that won’t be simple after years of losing.

“We’re trying to change the culture,” Lawrence said. “I think part of our battle right now is getting past last year’s losing. We’re trying to regain some confidence. We’re trying to instill a new offense, a new defense. It’s a whole new system. It’s going to take some time. It’s definitely a process.”

A process, for sure, but there have been flashes of promise already. Though the girls dropped their first two games of the season, they carried a healthy lead over SM South into the locker room at halftime in their first game earlier this month. Sloppy play and poor shot selection in the second half let SM South back into the game, though, and the Raiders went on to win.

“That was a huge learning moment,” Lawrence said. “It’s a chance to talk about championship behaviors, the little things you do to win.”

And despite the final scores, the first games of the season have showcased some of the young talent moving into the program. Freshman Jordan Yowell, a standout on the Indian Hills team that won the district’s first-ever middle school title last year, scored 17 points that first game. She followed up her debut effort with 18 points in the Lancers’ second game. The transition directly from the middle school game to varsity high school wasn’t without its stresses, though.

“The first game, right before warming up, my stomach was turning on me,” Yowell said. “I was so nervous, I could barely walk. But once we got started I got in the groove and felt like I was playing ball again.”

Yowell said she and her teammates are bought into the potential of the team.

“There’s always been a positive vide,” she said. “We’re all still getting used to playing with each other — but the energy has been there.”

As for Lawrence, she says the team will definitely take time to celebrate when its first win comes — but she knows it won’t be their last.

“We’re looking for small victories now,” she said. “Our motto for the year is ‘Think big, focus small.’ It’s about taking the little pieces and putting them together into a winning culture.”

The girls basketball team circles up before practice.
The girls basketball team circles up before each practice.