At the beginning of the season, the Waynesville Lady Tigers started ice cold, dropping four games in a row in the first three weeks.
Eventually, Coach Brittany Matlock and her team of youngsters were able to turn the tide and string together a couple wins starting with St. Clair, then against Laquey, which were both morale-boosting contests.
"Each year it takes a little time to get timing and chemistry going, some longer than or shorter than others," Matlock said. "I am very proud of the girls and coaches for staying the course and focusing on the big picture while doing the little things."
After months of laboring practices those little things – stepping to passes, boxing out to secure easy rebounds, maintaining proper position on defense and aggressively attacking the rim, among other things – seemed to appear overnight.
At the season's midway mark, Waynesville advanced to the championship round against Columbia-Hickman at the Rolla Tournament, prompting a string of wins in four of six games leading up to the Ozark Conference portion of the schedule.
But recently, the Lady Tigers have struggled against those rigid Ozark Conference competitors. After reaching .500 for the first time this season against Glendale on Jan. 22, Waynesville fell below that mark three more times, finishing 5-4 in conference play.
"Our schedule is tough," Matlock said. "Our losses came to the top teams in the conference and we competed with them."
The team's instructor added that each loss "show[ed] us what we need to work on and put us in situations that will only help us down the road."
In the final regular season contest, Waynesville struggled against a physical Kickapoo squad, but proved its reputation for being a scrappy late-season contender by routing Joplin, 57-21.
Oddly enough, the current season is eerily similar to last year when the Lady Tigers struggled at the beginning, but slowly built a run to the Class 5, District 10 championship, something Matlock and her team hopes to accomplish again in 2013.
Page 2 of 2 - "I'd be crazy if I didn't want us to repeat as champions," Matlock said. "We just have to be prepared and bring it nightly."
Waynesville's first round district tournament opponent will be determined after Saturday's contest between Northwest and Lebanon, two teams that finished with a combined record of 11-29, but the Lady Tigers cannot throw caution to the wind.
"We understand that at this time of year seeds really don't matter and anything can happen," Matlock said. "Whoever wins will be ready for us and have one game under their belt. We just have to be focused and execute no matter who we are playing. Anything can happen this time of year and hopefully we will take advantage of every opportunity."
The Lady Tigers are scheduled to compete against Saturday's winner Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. in Rolla.