Why Jaiden Conaway is really driven to play in her first state tournament for Roland girls

Buck Ringgold
Fort Smith Times Record

Jaiden Conaway was part of the last Roland girls basketball team to reach the state tournament.

However, the 6-foot-2 post player actually didn't get to participate in the Lady Rangers' loss in the 2019 3A quarterfinals. That's because Conaway missed her entire sophomore season with a torn ACL suffered in practice.

But she was still there, cheering on her teammates at state.

"It was hard for me to watch my team go to the state tournament, but I knew that all I could do was support them," Conaway said.

 Now a senior, Conaway returns to the 3A state tournament, where the Lady Rangers play Valliant on Wednesday in the quarterfinals at Oklahoma City's State Fair Arena.

"After my team and I fell short last year, we all knew we had to work extra hard in the offseason to get to where we knew we could be," Conaway said. "We were all disappointed in ourselves last year and that feeling drove us to work harder and improve our game."

That drive has resulted in a perfect 19-0 record, a No. 1 ranking and the top seed in the state tournament. Roland also won the Sequoyah County Area Classic and the Old Fort Classic, beating 4A power Fort Gibson.

"I’m not surprised we are ranked No. 1," Conaway said. "This team has put in numerous hours of hard work, and there is not one of us that is more dedicated than the other."

But with it comes the added pressure of finishing off the season with the program's first state championship. Conaway, for one, embraces the high expectations this week.

"The pressure definitely intensified with each game," she said. "With us being ranked number one, everyone wanted to beat us.

"Now that we have made it to state, the pressure is even more intense because everyone is expecting us to win it."

Conaway will be a key player for Roland's title hopes, with her physicality and ability to rebound. She is averaging 7.8 boards per game to go along with her 7.3 points per game.

"My inside game complements our guards well," Conaway said. "For example, if I get a rebound on the offside board, I know that one of my guards will be right there behind me, ready to shoot a 3.

"I enjoy my role as an inside player because I am 6-2 and I’m not afraid to be physical in order to get a rebound."

And Conaway, who has played basketball since first grade, gets to realize a satisfying conclusion to her high school career. Now she wants to finish it with a gold ball.

"We’ve actually had a team motto this year, ‘one quarter at a time,' " Conaway said. "We know that we can’t win the whole game in one quarter. We have to take it one quarter at a time."