Lady Bulldog Timeout 2 (copy)

Lady Bulldogs Head Coach Jeff Oliver talked with the team in 2016. Oliver reached a personal goal in 2020 with his new team at Eufaula by qualifying for the State tournament.

CHRISTY WHEELAND/AMERICAN-TRIBUNE

Jeff Oliver wasn’t even supposed to be the new Eufaula girls basketball coach when hired in 2019.

The former Wagoner High School girls coach was taking over a good boys basketball program and Oliver was ready to get started.

However, the former Ironhead girls coach took an administrative job at Canadian, Okla., and suddenly the job was open.

Oliver took it and met his team for the first time in June.

Now, nine months later Oliver and Eufaula’s girls are waiting for their chance to play in the Class 3A State basketball tournament. When that will happen is anybody’s guess.

Getting to State has been a lifelong dream of Oliver. He wanted to make it as a player and now sought the prize as a coach.

It took 27 years at various coaching positions and working in four different schools to finally achieve his goal with the Lady Ironheads.

However, it seems that fate was almost cruel when Oliver and his team were within minutes away from the State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City on March 12. That’s when he learned there would be no tournament. Ironically, it was a call from a former Chouteau fan (one of his coaching stops) that gave Oliver the news.

The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) postponed the event due to the COVID-19 outbreak. No time was given to reschedule.

“Luckily most of the Eufaula (fan) cars were behind us,” said Oliver of stopping them before they arrived in Oklahoma City.”

Unfortunately, the team needed to be told the news, too.

“My assistant said, ‘Get them told.’ We woke some up and broke the news.”

Oliver began, “I don’t know how to say this. We’re probably postponed a week.”

Two or three girls started crying.

“We have seven seniors and once we got parked at the Big House (we decided to pause for a moment). All I knew to do was pray for wisdom guidance and safety.”

Oliver waited a few minutes for some fans that continued to the arena, who had not turned back, arrive in the parking area. They made a circle and prayed.

Oliver’s dream of participating in a State basketball tournament at the iconic “Big House” would be put on hold indefinitely.

After 27 years of trying, Oliver figures he can wait for it to be rescheduled.

The Eufaula girls had only made the State tournament once in school history (1993) before the 2020 playoffs began. The Lady Ironheads came through the Area consolation round to make the final eight.

Oliver knows how tough it was to make State. He had two really good girls teams when at Chouteau only to lose in the final seconds by two points...twice.

So, it was sweet redemption in the final Area consolation game at Checotah that Oliver could take a breath when victory was at hand against Roland.

“With 14 seconds left, we were on the (free throw) line. I knew they were out of timeouts,” Oliver said of the five-point lead. “I looked at my assistant coach and slapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘We did it. We’re going to the Big House!’”

Oliver had waited decades to qualify for State.

“I wondered what it would feel like. I walked down to end of the bench and thought of my family and pointed to most of them in the stands,” Oliver added.

“I said, ‘Thank you, Lord’ and I looked up to the heavens and I was thankful for those seven seniors. I’ve coached teams that should have gotten there.”

Oliver had one wish when the State brackets were drawn up.

“I told my wife after all these years, if I get to State that we are in the Big House all three days,” Oliver said.

Oliver got his wish. Eufaula was supposed to open the 3A girls bracket at 2 p.m. against Jones when the word came out everything was postponed.

“It’s been quite a run of emotions,” Oliver said while waiting to hear when the State brackets will be allowed to begin.

The OSSAA has announced it is determined to get the tournament played. When? That’s another question.

Oliver understands there is no time limit on a coach reaching the State tournament.

“I‘ve been chasing it (a trip to the State tournament) and I still can, but these seniors can’t,” Oliver concluded. “I’m hoping that the Lady Ironheads can get to play in the tournament.”

Oliver should have a good boys team back at Eufaula and they will get another shot after falling just short.

For the girls, their time is now.