The Division III girls basketball state tournament seems like one team’s to lose – and last year it did. Undefeated South Euclid Regina is looking for its sixth state title, while defending champion Versailles, which beat Regina last year, is looking for its second. Liberty-Benton and Oak Hill got the other Golden Tickets. Game on.
The Division III girls basketball state tournament seems like one team’s to lose – and last year it did.
Undefeated South Euclid Regina is the heavy-favorite heading into the state semifinals Thursday at OSU’s Schottenstein Center. Of course, the Royals were the favorites last year as well when they were upset by eventual champion Versailles. As for Versailles, the Tigers are back too, despite losing eight games during the regular season.
Liberty-Benton and Oak Hill got the other Golden Tickets. Game on.
6 p.m., Thursday: Findlay Liberty-Benton (23-1) vs South Euclid Regina (26-0)
8 p.m., Thursday: Versailles (18-8) vs Oak Hill (24-1)
2 p.m., Saturday: State Final
FINDLAY LIBERTY-BENTON (23-1)
Girls Enrollment: 167
Final ‘09 Ranking: 4th
State Appearances: 2009
Head Coach: Nate Irwin
School Rec.: 73-34 (5 yrs.)
PPG: 61.1; OPP: 34.0
G 2 Katelyn Saums, 5-6, Sr., 11.7 ppg
G 10 Hillary Moore, 5-4, Sr., 4.1 ppg
G 11 Amanda Hyde, 5-10, Jr., 21.4 ppg
G 14 Amber Peterson, 5-10, Jr., 9.5 ppg
G 15 Caite Craft, 5-8, Fr., 9.2 ppg
Liberty-Benton is appearing in its first state tournament thanks in large part to its ability to sink the 3-pointer. The Eagles have shot close to 500 3s this season and are making 35-percent of their attempts, which is a very good clip.
“(Shooting the 3) has definitely been our strength,” Irwin said. “We want to get dribble penetration and then when teams collapse we’ll kick out for the shot. If the don’t cut down the lanes we’ll go to the basket. We do score inside but it’s not a traditional post game.”
A lack of size has forced L-B to focus on athleticism and outside shooting. The Eagles have four girls that have made 30 or more 3s and three girls are shooting 39-percent or better from behind the 3-point arc.
“We’ve faced a handful of teams (that are taller than us this season),” Irwin said. “It’s one of those things where yes they pose a match up problem for us with their size, but the reverse of that is that we also pose a match up problem for teams with size because of the five athletes we can put out there that can all handle the ball and pass and shoot. It kind if goes both ways. Would we like to have more size? Yes. But we have what we have and we’ve won a lot of games with it.”
Typically the Eagles utilize an eight-man rotation but they aren’t afraid to ride their horses. In a 55-35 regional final win over Castalia Margaretta, the Eagles starters accounted for every point and played the entire game, minus the final 40 seconds.
“Margaretta was kind of uncommon for us,” Irwin said. “It was a slower paced game and we were able to keep our noses clean and didn’t have foul trouble so we decided to go with them.”
L-B’s starting five is strong.
The Eagles are led by Hyde, a standout junior who has already scored 1,000-career points.
“She’s carried us big-time in the tournament,” Irwin said. “She’s a big-time player.”
Hyde scored 32 points in one tournament game and has scored over 20 for nine straight games. In the regional final Hyde had 22 points and nine rebounds.
Saums is the team’s best perimeter shooter, while Craft isn’t bad either. The sister of L-B junior standout and Tennessee hoops recruit Aaron Craft, Caitie Craft has had several big games including two in the tournament in which she’s gone 5-for-5 and 3-for-3 from 3-point land.
Moore, a four-year varsity player, is a three-year starter at point guard. She only has 29 turnovers in 24 games.
Peterson is getting a second taste of state after being a freshman reserve on the Findlay High School team that made the D-I state semifinal in 2007.
Defensively L-B employs man-to-man “95-percent of the time” according to Irwin.
“We did play one quarter of zone near the need of the year,” Irwin said. “We were up 20 points and figured we’d try it. It didn’t go so well so we scrapped it and went back to our bread and butter.”
Liberty-Benton is no stranger to state tournament success. It’s boys basketball team made state in 2007, while the school’s football team was in the D-V state final this past fall.
Regina, L-B’s opponent, is no stranger to the state tournament either.
“Every team dreams of getting a chance to play down in Columbus,” Irwin said. “This year we played well enough to get to that level. I don’t think (the girls) quite know yet what we’re going against in Regina, but as far as a coaching staff we have a good idea.
“Regina is an extremely talented team and they are by far the most talented team we’ve played. I’m sure the girls have heard some things from their parents and such but we haven’t talked to them about it. We’ll fill them in on exactly what they’re going up against and what we have to do to win the game. We’re happy to have the opportunity to play (Regina).”
OAK HILL (24-1)
Location: Oak Hill
Girls Enrollment: 156
Final ’09 Ranking: 5th
State Appearances: 2009, 2004
Head Coach: Doug Hale
School Rec.: 238-68 (12 yrs.)
PPG: 68.1; OPP: 40.8
F 23 Rebecca Puckett, 5-10, Jr., 11.4 ppg
F 10 Taylor Hale, 5-10, Fr., 7.8 ppg
G 33 Karissa Adkins, 5-9, Jr., 14.2 ppg
G 24 Mikie Strite, 5-5, So., 6.4 ppg
G 11 Breanna Butler, 5-7, Fr., 9.9 ppg
Oak Hill is one of two teams (D-II’s Hathaway Brown is the other) in Columbus this weekend that does not start a senior. The Oaks don’t even play one.
Their rotation includes three juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen.
“We’re a really young team,” Hale said. “We made it to the regional final last year and lost to Garaway. Getting back has been our theme all year. We had a lot of key players coming back and we had three really good freshmen coming in. We said hey lets get better in the summer and stay healthy and see what happens this year.”
What has happened is the Oaks second state appearance in history.
In 2004, Hale led Oak Hill to the D-III state tournament and a 70-50 win over Smithville. The Oaks lost to Youngstown Ursuline in the final.
Despite its youth, Hale doesn’t think his team will be overwhelmed.
“We’ve been to the regional eight times in the last 10-12 years and those kids have all been a part of the fan bus and the youth programs that have followed that,” Hale said. “They also all play AAU basketball so they’re accustomed to the big atmosphere.”
According to Hale, the Oaks “like to play baseline to baseline” and “come out and defend you.”
Offensively they’ll get up and down the floor.
Adkins was the District 13 coaches association player of the year and averages 6 assists a game. She’s a three-year starter.
Puckett was also first team all-district and averages 9 rebounds a game. Strite is a two-year starter.
Freshman Lakin Caudill is the first sub off the bench and another huge contributor. She averages 10 points a game and is the team’s leading rebounder at nearly 10 boards a contest.
The Oaks showed their grit in the regional final by fighting back from an 11-0 deficit to win 50-45.
Despite the fact its semifinal opponent Versailles has eight losses, the Oaks aren’t looking past anyone. In fact, they’re looking forward to facing the Tigers.
“We know they were the state champion last year and they have a great program,” Hale said. “We met their coaching staff at the state meeting and what a great bunch of people. It sounds like their community is a lot like ours. They’re super-excited and a school-oriented, blue-collar kind of atmosphere.
“We would hook up with anybody. Playing Versailles we know will be a great opportunity.”
SOUTH EUCLID REGINA (25-0)
Location: South Euclid
Girls Enrollment: 172
Final ’09 Ranking: 2nd
State Appearances: 2009, 2008, 2005, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000
Head Coach: Patrick Diulus
School Rec.: 242-26 (11 yrs.)
PPG: 70.6; OPP: 42.2
F 22 Jackie Cook, 6-0, Sr., 19.3 ppg
F 4 Riley McCormick, 5-10, Sr., 12.5 ppg
C 32 Therany Dunnigan, 6-2, So., 8.3 ppg
G 14 Tay’ler Mingo, 5-7, Jr., 13.8 ppg
G 34 Amber Boyd, 5-8, Sr., 13.1 ppg
Regina is flat out one of the best programs in the history of the girls basketball state tournament. Never mind the fact that it’s done all of its damage in the last 10 years.
Since 2000, the Royals have been to state seven times and have five state titles. They are the only school in history – regardless of division – to win four straight state titles (2000-03). They added another title in 2005. Last year’s semifinal loss to Versailles was the Royals first in Columbus. Their career state record is 10-1.
“As far as what happened last year, we didn’t do a really good job,” Diulus said. “Versailles took the game to us and we weren’t prepared. That was my fault. Hopefully with a new cast and some holdovers were hopeful the outcome will be different this time.”
If it is, Regina will also accomplish something it’s never done – an undefeated season. The 2000 team came the closest at 27-1.
“I think (the girls) are proud of (being undefeated) from the standpoint it gives them somewhat of a badge,” Diulus said. “But at this particular time of year, if you lose one time you call the drycleaners. We’re aware of that fact. If that happens being undefeated now doesn’t really matter.”
Should Regina win the state, it would also match (now defunct) Pickerington High School for most state titles in history with six.
Talk about turnover, Regina has just one starter back from last year (Mingo) and eight new faces on the roster. Trouble adjusting? Nope.
“We’ve meshed (over the season and gotten better), but it’s difficult to say we weren’t very good at the beginning because we’ve won every game,” Diulus said. “We have better leadership (this year). The three seniors are not only talented but they are very good leaders and they keep everyone together. I think adversity on or off the court is something they can handle. There is no question that has been a hallmark of this group.”
The seniors carry heavy credentials. All three are headed to NCAA Division I colleges.
Cook is going to Old Dominion, while McCormick and Boyd are headed to Toledo and Evansville, respectively.
The best prospect on the team tough is Mingo.
A standout point guard, Mingo is one of the nation’s top players in the Class of 2010 and is ranked as the No. 5 point guard nationally and No. 21 player overall in the class by the College Girls Basketball Report. She’s being courted by every Top 25 program.
Mingo had 21 points, six assists and five steals in the Royals 62-41 regional final win over undefeated Smithville.
Dunnigan is considered the No. 9 center in the country in the Class of 2011 according to CGBR.
According to Ton Jenkins of the Ohio Girls Basketball report, Regina is the only D-III school in Ohio that legitimately starts five D-I college players. All five starters have also been the high-scorer at least once during the year.
The Royals have won their six tournament games by an average of 40 points.
“We really think we’re balanced,” Diulus said. “We’ve been able to score really well all year long and we expect to be able to continue to do that. Defensively we mix it up. It just depends on whom we’re playing. This time of the year, every team offers a different look.”
Girls Enrollment: 166
Final ’09 Ranking: Not Ranked
State Appearances: 2009, 2008, 2007, 1998, 1992
Head Coach: Jacki Stonebraker
School Rec.: 108-43 (6 yrs.)
PPG: 45.5; OPP: 37.7
F 20 Emily Frey, 5-11, Sr., 11.6 ppg
F 41 Megan Campbell, 6-0, Jr., 11.5 ppg
F 22 Emily Eilerman, 5-10, Sr., 4.9 ppg
G 10 Karen Smith, 5-6, Sr., 5.2 ppg
G 12 Susan Berger, 5-6, Jr., 3.6 ppg
It’s hard to imagine a defending state champion being under the radar, but that’s how Versailles went through much of the regular season.
Putting together the only undefeated girls basketball season in the state last year en route to its first state championship, the Tigers struggled this season, losing two if their first three and three of their last five.
A 12-8 overall record and seventh place finish in the Midwest Athletic Conference did not earn Versailles attention.
Six straight wins have.
“We took our bumps and bruises all year,” Stonebraker said. “We were 3-6 in the MAC and a lot of those games were close, tight games that we couldn’t finish at the end. I think the girls just took those games and continued to learn from them and build from them.
“They came together at the right time.”
Versailles started its tournament run with a convincing 49-36 win over West Liberty-Salem, which was ranked No. 10 in the final state poll. The Tigers also have impressive postseason wins over Miami East, Middletown Madison and Cincinnati Roger Bacon.
The Tigers, who also made the state semifinals in 2007, have made the regional final four years straight.
The Tigers are only team in the state tournament in all divisions that average less then 50 points per game. They’re not ashamed.
In the regional semifinals, Versailles scored just four points in the first half against Miami East and won. In the regional finals against Madison they had 11.
“Defensively we’re man-to-man,” Stonebraker said. “We can mix it up and play zone, but we prefer to go man-to-man until something falls apart or someone can score on us. Offensively we just have some set plays. We’re more of a half-court team than run and gun. We’re disciplined on offense.”
What’s remarkable about the Tigers’ return is that they’ve done it without last year’s stars Justine Raterman and Emily Bohman (both graduated). Raterman is a freshman at the University of Dayton and was named the Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Week nine times this season. That’s not a typo.
In last year’s semifinal win over Regina, Raterman and Bohman each scored 27 points, marking just the second time in state tournament history teammates had scored that many points in a game. Raterman added a D-III record 19 boards as well.
Versailles has a penchant for reloading though. Heading into the 2007-08 season, the Tigers had just two starters and two reserves back from their state semifinalist team.
This year Versailles does have depth and experience despite not having the big names.
In addition to the starting five, the Tigers also bring seasoned players off the bench in senior Olivia Liette and juniors Bethany Ahrens, Laura Schlater and Tara Winner.
“It’s experience,” Stonebraker said of her team’s postseason success. “These five seniors that are on our team now have been on our tournament teams since they were freshmen. They know what it takes and what it’s like to win at that level. Even though we had a down year and finished 12-8, they know when it’s tournament time it’s time to go.”
Semifinals: Regina over Liberty-Benton; Versailles over Oak Hill
Finals: Regina over Versailles