OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee High School girls basketball team won 10 more games this season than it did a year ago. Second-year coach Joseph Smith pointed to two Seminoles – seniors Lahna Baker and Cheyenne Nunez – as pivotal reasons for the turnaround.
“Cheyenne and Lahna were a big part of that. They’re the foundation to what I’ve built here,” said Smith, who guided the squad to a 16-8 mark compared to 6-16 the previous year.
Cheyenne and Lahna’s contributions as the team’s point guard and shooting guard – roles they handled interchangeably – were sorely missed late in the season. With both players out of action due to leg injuries they suffered during regular season games, Okeechobee struggled in the waning weeks and was eliminated in the first round of the Class 6A-District 13 tournament.
“We kind of limped into the playoffs,” Smith said.
The injuries impacted both players’ senior night Jan. 21 when the Brahmans hosted Moore Haven, whose squad is filled with fellow Tribal citizens. Lahna was on crutches and unable to play. As a four-year varsity letterman, Cheyenne had watched three other senior nights for the team and was determined to play in her own. She received a doctor’s clearance to play in the game, but she wasn’t at full strength.
“She called me and said, ‘I’m playing my senior night,’” Smith said.
Cheyenne departed on a victorious note in her final game. She helped Okeechobee top Moore Haven, 57-39, with “a bunch of assists,” according to Smith, but the injury limited her scoring ability.
“You could tell she wasn’t the same athlete, but she still played outstanding,” Smith said. “Her at 80 percent is most girls at 100 percent.”
Before the game, the Lady Brahmans honored Cheyenne, Lahna and two other seniors. Cheyenne was accompanied by her parents, Peggy and Daniel Nunez Sr.; Lahna was joined by her parents, Mona and Preston Baker.
Although season-ending statistics were not available, Smith said Cheyenne and Lahna finished among the team’s top four scorers. Lahna, who played for Lake Placid as a junior, provided a newcomer’s boost as did Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School graduate Raeley Matthews. The 6-foot-1 freshman center made a favorable impression in her rookie season.
“If she sticks with it, she’ll be a Division I basketball player. She was one of the best centers in the district,” Smith said.
As for reinforcements next season, Smith expects freshman Cady Osceola will step up in the varsity backcourt after she generated a strong season on the junior varsity.
“She had an awesome year. She will fill one of the positions of Lahna or Cheyenne,” Smith said.
With the state playoffs in full swing in early February, Smith said his team would have been in the thick of it had the injury bug not bit Lahna and Cheyenne.
“I believe if we had both of those girls we’d still be playing,” he said.
After the basketball season ended, Lahna and Cheyenne shifted their attention to getting healthy in time for softball season.