The Division IV state tournament tips off Thursday with four teams who have been there before: defending champion Columbus Africentric, nine-time participant Berlin Hiland, New Riegel and Convoy Crestview. “We talk about a state championship every day in practice in our huddle,” Hiland head coach Dave Schlabach said. “I think you have to put it out there to ever have a shot at it.” All four of these schools do.
The Division IV girls basketball state tournament tips off Thursday with four teams who have been there before. Columbus Africentric, the defending state champion is back, as is nine-time participant Berlin Hiland. The Hawks won state titles in 2000, 2005 and 2006. New Riegel makes its first appearance since 1997, while Convoy Crestview returns for the first time since 1985.
“We talk about a state championship every day in practice in our huddle,” Berlin Hiland head coach Dave Schlabach said. “I think you have to put it out there to ever have a shot at it.”
All four of these schools do.
6:00 Thursday: Berlin Hiland (25-1) vs. New Riegel (22-3)
8:00 Thursday: Columbus Africentric Early College (24-1) vs. Convoy Crestview (23-2)
2:00 Saturday: State Final
BERLIN HILAND (25-1)
Nickname: Lady Hawks
Girls Enrollment: 115
Final ‘07 Ranking: 2nd
State Appearances: 2008, 2006, 2005.
2004, 2000, 1999, 1997, 1990, 1989
Head Coach: David Schlabach
School Rec.: 368-55 (17 yrs.)
PPG: 70.1; OPP: 30.5
F 25 Kristi Yoder, 6-1, Sr., 9.5 ppg
F 44 Katelyn Stuckey, 5-11, So., 6.7 ppg
G 3 Layla Miller, 5-6, Sr., 5.4 ppg
G 22 Gabrielle Fowler, 5-6, Sr., 5.1 ppg
G 24 Jena Stutzman, 5-8, Sr., 16.5 ppg
The Hawks and ultra-successful head coach Dave Schlabach return to Columbus after a year hiatus. Hiland, which won back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006, is looking to become just the fifth school in history to claim at least four state titles. Pickerington (six), Delphos St. John’s (five), South Euclid Regina (five) and Warsaw River View (four) belong to the elite list.
Speaking of elite, the trip to state is the seventh for the Hawks under Schlabach.
“We never take it for granted,” Schlabach said. “You never know when you’re going to be back. We always want to take advantage of the opportunity of being here.”
Despite being here in 2006, Hiland has only two players that logged significant minutes two years ago.
“Even though we were here a few years ago, the majority of these kids did not participate,” Schlabach said. “It’s new to them. It means a lot to them. As a staff we talk about having a lot of kids that have had the dream of playing here for years and now they have the opportunity.”
Hiland’s experienced performers are two good ones in senior Jenna Stutzman and Gabrielle Fowler.
Stutzman made the all-tournament team in 2006 and is headed to Kent State upon graduation. A four-year starter, Stutzman is one of the state’s top players regardless of division. She averages a team-high 16.5 points.
“She’s our playmaker, she creates a lot of things” Schlabach said. “The big thing with her is her first three years she was a scorer. Now she leads us in scoring, steals and assists. She’s the kid that leads the charge, but the difference between this year and last year is we have a lot more kids who are willing to make plays on the floor.”
Hiland goes 10 deep and expects everyone to contribute.
“There are certain things we think allow us to be competitive every year,” Schlabach said. “We play a lot of kids and get out and push the basketball to create things. I would say we’re a typical group. From a discipline standpoint things don’t change ever.”
Hiland starts four seniors, including guard Layla Miller and Kristi Yoder. Yoder is headed to Walsh. Off the bench junior Karli Mast (team’s second leading scorer) and sophomore Hillary Weaver are key contributors.
Schlabach said the turning point for Hiland came during a 39-30 overtime loss to Sugarcreek Garaway on Jan. 10. The Hawks beat the Pirates, who are a Division III semifinalist, in the season opener.
“That was the loss that stung us enough to wake us up,” Schlabach said. “It motivated us to get a little bit better.”
A good showing in the Classic in the Country, which included wins over D-II semifinalist Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown and Columbus Brookhaven, also provided fuel for state.
Key To Victory
Stutzman is the straw that stirs Hiland and this weekend she’ll need to step up like she did in 2006.
“We’ve really challenged her the last two years to turn into (a complete player),” Schlabach said. “We told her hey you’re not a shooter you’re a player. Good teams are going to limit shooters opportunities, so she needed to become a more complete player. The big thing with Jenna is her mental toughness. She’s a tougher kid now.
“We would not be where we’re at if she did not trust her teammates. She probably gave up 6-8 points a game in the long run just to make sure we had other kids developing throughout the year.”
Despite its lengthy resume, Schlabach said he still expects some butterflies when the Hawks take the court. Playing in Columbus is always a new experience, no matter how many tickets have been punched prior.
“Probably two-thirds of my players were managers for state teams and a couple of the players were on the team two years ago so they at least have a little idea of what to expect,” Schlabach said. “But don’t kid yourself, they’re going to walk into the Schottenstein and it’s going to be a situation they haven’t been in before.”
On New Riegel
“We’ve seen New Riegel numerous times,” Schlabach said. “Obviously we’re impressed with the Reinhart kid. She’s a really good point guard who handles a lot of pressure and does a lot of good things for them. Also impressed with their inside play. They are big and physical and they finish.”
NEW REIGEL (22-3)
Location: New Riegel
Nickname: Blue Jackets
Girls Enrollment: 55
Final ‘07 Ranking: 12th
State Appearances: 2008, 1997
Head Coach: Steve Lucius
School Rec.: 405-113 (23 yrs.)
PPG: 56.0; OPP: 38.4
F 30 Paula Kelbley, 5-7, So., 6.3 ppg
F 40 Lauren Hutton, 5-10, Jr., 12.1 ppg
C 32 Rachelle Lucius, 6-0, Jr., 10.4 ppg
G 10 Jami Wagner, 5-4, So., 6.0 ppg
G 12 Jackie Reinhart, 5-7, Jr., 10.1 ppg
The Blue Jackets are back in Columbus for the second time in history and for the second time under head coach Steve Lucius. New Riegel also made the tournament in 1997 and lost to Kalida (48-45) in the semis.
According to Lucius, making the state tournament is somewhat unexpected. Prior to this season New Riegel had not won a district title since 1997.
“This is a bit of a surprise,” Lucius said. “We focused on our league this year and did not win it. We got second. And then we focused on sectionals and won that. Then we focused on a district championship and we won that. Getting to the regional was huge for us. Once we got there we just went out and played our best ball of the season. We put together two solid games, got some breaks and low and behold here we are again. We’re definitely playing our best ball of the season now.”
Four-year starter Jackie Reinhart is New Riegel’s lone senior and it’s leader. A second team All-Ohio selection in volleyball, Reinhart is the type of player that you “look for to do a lot of things” according to Lucius.
“She’s on the floor for 32 minutes,” Lucius said. “She spearheads our defense and handles the ball for us. She’s my coach on the floor and has done everything for us.”
Key To Victory
Throughout its tournament run, New Riegel has benefited from a healthy line up and several underclassmen that have provided off the bench. Free throws have also been key. The Blue Jackets shot 52 free throws in the regional (26 in each game).
Said Lucius: “Once we get a lead we are pretty good at getting to the foul line and making shots.”
“We know that the Stutzman girl is a great player,” Lucius said. “They are very deep and they have good size. They have a lot of shooters, they are quick, they are going to play tremendous defense and they run the floor well.”
Lucius has not seen Hiland live.
Said the coach: “It’s going to be a really new experience for us.”
AFRICENTRIC EARLY COLLEGE (24-1)
Girls Enrollment: 123
Final ‘07 Ranking: 1st
State Appearances: 2008, 2007
Head Coach: Will McKinney
School Rec.: 101-22 (5 yrs.)
PPG: 77.2; OPP: 31.0
F 2 Ashar Harris, 5-11, Sr., 10.7 ppg
G 21 Alesia Howard, 5-9, Sr., 12.2 ppg
G 34 Tyeasha Moss, 5-9, Sr., 14.6 ppg
G 31 Raven Ferguson, 5-10, Fr., 10.7 ppg
G 1 Shardai Morrison-Fountain, 5-5, Jr., 13.4 ppg
Africentric has been a school for five years and in that span has claimed a state title and three Columbus City League crowns. The Nubians won last year’s cown with a 42-39 win over Ottoville in the semifinals and a 44-27 win over New Knoxville in the title game.
Despite making its second trip to Columbus in 12 months, Africentric has just five girls back from last year’s team. Of the 11 girls on the Nubian roster, five were on the JV a year ago and freshman starter Raven Fergusen was in eighth-grade.
According to Ohio girls basketball expert Tom Jenkins (the founder of the Ohio Girls Basketball Report), Africentric is one of the few teams in the state that starts five players with NCAA Division I potential. Seniors Alesia Howard (UMass) and Tyeasha Moss (Xavier) have already made their college decisions, while junior Ashar Harris is one of the top juniors in Ohio. All five starters average double-figures.
Fergusen has made an immediate impact as a starter. In addition to averaging 10.7 points, she also chips in three rebounds and 2.5 steals per game.
Fergusen should be good, she has the lineage.
“She is a talented young lady and she has talent in her blood,” Africentric coach Will McKinney said. “She is OJ Mayo’s first cousin. We expected her to come in and contribute. I have been really impressed with her unselfishness and how she distributes the ball. She is going to be good.”
CONVOY CRESTVIEW (23-2)
Girls Enrollment: 114
Final ‘07 Ranking: Not Ranked
State Appearances: 2008, 1985, 1976
Head Coach: Greg Rickard
School Rec.: 278-122 (18 yrs.)
PPG: 48.2; OPP: 28.1
F 20 Kelsey Nedderman, 5-9, Jr., 8.6 ppg
C 52 Carly Lichtensteiger, 5-8, Jr., 7.9 ppg
G 14 Meghan Henry, 5-6, Sr., 5.1 ppg
G 32 Melissa Eickholt, 5-5, Jr., 10.4 ppg
G 5 Jo Thompson, 5-8, So., 7.6 ppg
Of the four teams, Crestview has experienced the longest state drought. The Knights last made state in 1985 where they lost a Class A semifinal to Tipp City Bethel (43-37). Crestview also made the initial state tournament in 1976 where it lost in the semis to Frankfort Adena (35-33).
Although some may not give Crestview much of a chance at unseating Africentric, don’t tell Knights coach Greg Rickard that. He’s a believer.
“I think our girls are battle tested,” Rickard said. “We’re not going to be intimidated.”
During its tournament run, the Knights have already handled some of the state’s best teams. This postseason alone they dispatched Ottoville, New Knoxville, Delphos St. John’s and Fort Loramie – a quartet of schools that have made appearances in Columbus since 2006.
“I think they are a little bit bigger than us but about every team we’ve played in the tournament this year has had a size advantage,” Rickard said. “We adjust.”
Semifinals: Hiland over New Riegel; Africentric over Crestview
Final: Africentric over Hiland