2023-24 Girls Hoops Preview: Broncos embracing high expectations from the #InsideOut

Basketball, Girls Basketball, Winter Sports

Trey Hunter

November 28, 2023
Mustang's 2023-24 girls basketball team poses for a photo during the preseason at the Mustang Event Center. The Broncos are set to improve upon their 14-12 record from last year and will be competing in district play for the first time ever in Class 6A. (Photo by Shelly Holinsworth / Freelance Action Photography)

Each year Katie Smith chooses a book for her squad to read and report on during the preseason.

It’s an exercise she adopted to help develop leadership from within the program. The selection is important as each year the book’s theme is indicative of challenges her staff feels the team may face during the season.

The program’s seniors lead the study each week – in charge of handing out questions for the underclassmen to answer as part of an assignment geared towards team bonding and engagement.

Smith and her staff want each player in the program to feel valued. She feels the exercise is a great way to get the most out of her team.

“That’s kind of the theme we’re going for this year,” Smith said. “We feel like this book can help them understand that there is going to be ups and downs, but as a team there is more to the game than just wins and losses.

“We want to reach every girl from freshmen to seniors and make sure they understand that it doesn’t matter your role, you have value. It doesn’t matter if you’re a starter or a role player. Or if you don’t play. Every girl should feel like they have a sense of value and a way to help the team. And I think we have that this year.”

Smith wants the Broncos to “step into themselves” in 2023-24, issuing the book “The Power of a Positive Team” by Jon Gordon to help each player understand their role and to help the team deal with higher expectations entering the winter campaign.

“We’re trying to build a team that is more positive because I feel like we have those higher expectations for ourselves and we have to understand how to deal with that,” Smith said. “I wanted this particular book because it can help us with what happens when those expectations aren’t being met early.

“That’s when a team can lose its identity. We want to avoid those things and have a positive mechanism to deal with them when they happen.”

The team adopted the hashtag #InsideOut as a theme for this season. It comes from the book assignment and is a reminder for each player to look inside themselves to help change the outside world.

“The biggest thing for our culture is that the girls understand their role and what we need from them as far as not playing outside of that,” Smith said.

The Broncos have plenty of leadership this year, entering the season with seven seniors, including manager Adisen Williamson and “player-coach” JahMonica Johnson.

Parker Simonsen, Kamryn Bass, Camryn Engles, Riley Trammell, and Aleigh Brayton make up a group of upperclassmen Smith describes as talented, hardworking, smart, and… smart.

The Broncos are strong on the court and nearly perfect in the classroom. They are well on their way to an Academic State Championship.

Six of this year’s seniors are part of National Honor Society, carrying a 4.0 GPA or better and possibly five players from the group will graduate valedictorian.

“It’s huge for our culture,” Smith said of her upperclassmen’s academic accomplishments. “We are big about grades… We don’t let them have a D in any class. These seniors have set the standard in my opinion for what I want Mustang Bronco basketball to be about.”

On the court, Simonsen leads the way, returning as the team’s leading scorer and assist leader from last year.

The University of Central Oklahoma-signee averaged 9.3 points, 1.8 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game in 2022-23 and could improve upon those numbers as she is set to play more off the ball.

Parker Simonsen (Sr.) led Mustang with 9.3 points and 1.8 assists per game as a junior last winter. The University of Central Oklahoma-commit is expected to once again be a leader for the Broncos as she moves to the two-guard position. (Photo by Ron Lane / Lane Images)

“She is obviously going to be the main focus,” Smith said of the 5-foot-6 guard. “She has been the only one from this class to start since their sophomore year and has significantly changed our team over the last couple of years.”

Simonsen played point guard as a junior but will be moving to her more natural position at the two-guard spot. Smith says she has the ability to create more off the ball and the move allows her to take advantage of that skillset.

“Her midrange is unbelievable,” Smith said. “And having played point guard last year, now she has the confidence to do even more things on the floor that maybe she didn’t have before. Her confidence, IQ, and ability to get to the rim are great.”

Mya Alston (So.) is another player who Smith and her staff expect to take the next step.

The 6-foot-1 guard has incredible length and athletic ability and is coming off a freshman season where she averaged seven points, 2.8 rebounds, and just over one assist per game. Smith sees her as a strong Division-1 prospect.

“When the girl comes to play, she is unstoppable,” the Mustang coach said. “She is just so long and athletic and can score at all levels. We feel like her three-ball really improved over the summer, which makes it even tougher to guard her, especially for forwards. She has all the tools to be a high-level D-1 player.”

Mya Alson (So.) averaged seven points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game last season as a freshman. The talented guard is expected to take the next step in 2023-24 as she continues to develop within Mustang’s program. (Photo by Ron Lane / Lane Images)

Cherish Haywood (Jr.) returns after a fantastic sophomore season.

The 5-foot-11 combo guard led the Broncos in rebounding with 5.2 boards per game. She also averaged 6.6 points and 1.7 assists and comes back as one of the top defensive players in the state.

Her length and athletic ability gives Mustang another dynamic playmaker with experience and plenty of talent.

“She is a defensive machine,” Smith said. “And she has added more scoring to her game, which is obviously good for us. She comes from a long line of players from a strong basketball family and is only going to keep improving.”

Christal Long (Jr.) is another combo guard that provides solid size, length, and rebounding ability for the Broncos. She finished second on the team as a sophomore with five rebounds per game and chipped in 3.5 points per game as well.

Tionna Johnson (Jr.) and Avery Ragland (So.) are expected to share the point guard role, taking over for Simonsen and allowing her to move off the ball.

Johnson averaged 2.3 points and 1.2 rebounds per game as a sophomore while Ragland averaged 1.6 points in just seven games.

“They’re going to share that role depending on the matchup and who we’re playing,” Smith said. “It’s a great thing for us going from pretty much not having a point guard to now having two that we can rely on and depend on throughout the game.”

Bass will be playing for the first time since tearing her ACL prior to her sophomore season.

The 5-foot-6 guard is a major shooting threat and will likely slide into the same role left behind by Lunden Foreman a year ago.

“She gives us that knockdown shooter we need,” said Smith, who is just glad to see her daughter play again. “This summer she did amazing and against PCO in scrimmages she knocked down six threes. She’s ready to get back out there and is feeling more and more comfortable.”

Trammell, an Oklahoma Christian-signee, and Engles provide the Broncos with even more length and rebounding ability from the post.

Trammell, a 6-foot-2 forward, averaged 3.2 rebounds while adding 1.6 points per game as a junior and is expected to once again play a major role.

Engles grabbed 2.1 rebounds per game and plays with extremely high basketball IQ according to Smith.

Cherish Haywood (Jr.) led Mustang in rebounding at 5.2 boards per game last season. The 5-foot-11 combo guard is also one of the best defensive players in the state. (Photo by Shelly Holinsworth / Freelance Action Photography)

Brayton and the rest of the roster are all high-IQ players as well and are comfortable in their roles said Smith. When it comes to knowing the offense or where to be, there is no drop off when she goes deep down the bench.

Now that her team has another year under its belt, Smith is ready to play more to her style: fast.

She is excited to see the hard work pay off from last season when the Broncos played more in the half court, getting used to the varsity level.

“We want to get back to how we have always played,” she said. “Using our defense to fuel our offense and getting up and down the floor. With our length and athletic ability, we can do so many things defensively that will lead to fast break and extra possessions.

“We want to take advantage of those opportunities on the offensive end. I think we will be better at three-point shooting and better at the free-throw line. We’re definitely going to do a lot of things different this season. Things that fit us more as a team.”

For the first time ever, the Broncos will be playing district basketball.

Like most of the other Class 6A and 5A sports, basketball teams in those two classes are being grouped into districts. Mustang joins Capitol Hill, Deer Creek, Edmond North, Moore, Norman North, Piedmont, and Putnam City North in District 1.

Each team will be placed in the West or East Regional to start the postseason with a double elimination format. The regional winner and runner-up will move on to two Area Tournaments where four teams from each will qualify for the State Tournament.

The ranking system for Class 6A and 5A is gone.

“I think it’s better now because we can go out and play in tough tournaments like our Mustang Holiday Classic and not be punished for losing to a really tough team that maybe wasn’t in your district or conference,” Smith said. “Now you can get better and play good teams without sacrificing the rankings side of it.”

There are also many rules changes across Oklahoma high school basketball.

There are no more 1-and-1 free-throw attempts after a certain number of fouls. In fact, the OSSAA has gone to a system much like the NBA with each team allowed four fouls per quarter while sending the opponent to the line for two free throws on the fifth and ensuing fouls. The foul count starts over after each period.

But still no shot clock.

“Some of the rule changes could definitely affect how teams play, especially toward the end of games,” Smith said. “I would love it a lot more if we had a shot clock.”

The Broncos open the season on Tuesday at Capitol Hill in the team’s first-ever district game. They open the home slate against Putnam City North on Friday night at the Mustang Event Center.

“We’re excited to get the season rolling,” Smith said. “The expectations are higher this year and we’re ready to see how we play early on. It’s definitely going to be a lot of fun.”

Published by trey hunter

Trey Hunter is the owner and publisher of the Mustang Sports Review. He graduated from Mustang High School in 2006 before graduating from the University of Central Oklahoma with a journalism degree in 2011. He has covered Mustang sports for multiple publications as well as high school sports and professional basketball for other outlets. Contact Trey for story ideas or reach out with information. PHONE: (405) 659-9898 EMAIL: TreyHunter1987@gmail.com

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