TWO IN A ROW: Qualls reflects on COY win, Lady Tigers' end-of-season awards

Apr. 2—At this point, Tahlequah Lady Tigers head coach David Qualls is used to winning something during the end-of-season awards.

Over the nine seasons Qualls has been leading the Lady Tigers, he has picked up five Coach of the Year Awards. Qualls' trophy case got bigger after the end of the 2023-'24 season, when he was named District 5A-3 Coach of the Year. That marks Qualls' second straight end-of-season award.

"It's humbling, but I believe it's a team award. It doesn't happen without team success and having players who work at it," Qualls said.

Like Qualls mentioned, the Lady Tigers had plenty of team success this season. Three Tigers were honored alongside Qualls.

Jaydyn Buttery picked up her second straight first-team selection. Buttery played a key role for the Lady Tigers out of the forward position and often helped out in the paint and around the 3-point arch.

Talyn Dick was named to the District 5A-3 Second Team after a strong season from the three-point line. According to Qualls, Dick was one of the best three-point shooters he had coached.

"It's always great to see your players get rewarded for their hard work throughout the season. They made impressions on opposing coaches doing the voting," Qualls said.

Along with the two players who were named to the District teams, senior Kori Rainwater finished the season as the District 5A-3 Player of the Year after winning Metro Lakes Conference Player of the Year last season. Rainwater was a key part of the Lady Tigers' attack on offensive and defense. The Air Force commit finished her senior season with 15.2 points per game, and 7.9 rebounds per game, while shooting 54.7% from the field. Rainwater finished her career with 1,208 points, 786 rebounds and as the THS career-leading blocker.

"Kori had an outstanding season," Qualls said. "She got better every year in high school, so we continued to put more and more on her plate. She was an outstanding leader for us day to day."

While the Lady Tigers had some awards individually, Qualls was able to lead them to some mid-season success.

Early on, the Lady Tigers picked up a championship they felt they should have won last season: the Tahlequah Invite. Facing off against Booker T. Washington, the Lady Tigers got their revenge from a season ago. After losing in 2022 to the Hornets, the Lady Tigers flipped the script for a two-possession win and their first trophy of the season.

Qualls kept THS undefeated until just after Christmas. That undefeated streak was snapped during the Tournament of Champions. Despite this, the Lady Tigers didn't let the loss resonate for long, as they put together a strong showing at the next tournament they competed in. THS picked up their second straight Mother Road Classic Championship, taking down a tough Coweta team.

Outside of the tournament scene, the Lady Tigers were dominant in district play this season. THS finished the season undefeated in districts. That mark was highlighted by their third win of the season over the Hornets. The last win over the Hornets came during a rowdy "away" setting. The win gave the Lady Tigers a perfect regular season and district record.

"Going undefeated and winning the 5A-3 district championship [was the best moment]. It's a grind of a season, and to go undefeated in district play is pretty special," Qualls said.

While the regular season went smoothly for the Lady Tigers, they hit the end of their rope in the playoffs. After a successful win in the Area Tournament, the Lady Tigers couldn't overcome a pair of teams they already beat in the Regional Tournament.

After getting dropped by Coweta convincingly in round one, the Lady Tigers were looking to bounce back against the Hornets. Despite beating the Hornets three times during the regular season, the Lady Tigers didn't have the right recipe in round four. THS opened the game in command, leading by as much as 17 in the first half. Coming out of halftime, the Lady Tigers struggled and soon fell to the Hornets.

"Obviously late in the playoff, we had a rough couple of days of basketball. I was proud of how we competed; we just didn't get a few breaks to go our way," Qualls said.

Qualls will have a new challenge next season as his five starting seniors graduate.

Follow live sports coverage @JakeSermershein on Twitter