At first, it looked like Woodmore's goal of winning the Northern Buckeye Conference was going nowhere.
After struggling to a 1-3 start, the Woodmore girls basketball team has rebounded to go 3-1 in its last four games to improve to 4-4 overall and 3-1 in the NBC.
While the Wildcats are happy to have gotten back to .500, they're hoping that better things are on the horizon.
"So far, I think it's been a little bit of rough start but it's only going to get better from here,” guard Grace Weirich said. “We're working everything out and we're starting to click and things will start to fall in place.”
Despite having endured some hardships thus far, coach Kyle Clair is pleased with how his team has performed.
"We've definitely been tested,” said Clair, now in his fifth season. “We've played some tough teams and battled in the majority of them, except for Port Clinton. I'm pleased with the way we're competing. We're doing some really positive things, we've cut our turnovers down, we're executing in terms of getting the looks that we want, we're just not finishing. We're building off the positives and we're hoping that carries over. We're on the verge.”
The team, which features a rotation of seven players, has 5-foot-6 Shannon O'Connor and 5-5 Leah Bench in the backcourt with 5-10 Allie Wank at small forward and Mackenzie Johnson, a 5-10 power forward, and Katy Avers, a 5-10 center, manning the post. Weirich, a 5-7 guard, and Ashleigh Blausey, a 5-5 power forward, are the first ones off the bench.
Offensively, the Wildcats like to get out in transition and get to the basket. Wank and Johnson lead the team in points, averaging 8.3 per game, followed by Weirich at 8.1.
But it's how Woodmore plays on defense that will determine how far it goes this season, Clair says.
“Defensively, we're a long way from being where we want to be in terms of being efficient with our pressure defense and our full-court pressure,” Clair said. “We've gone in spurts. We've played well with the 3-2 zone at times and then moved to man-to-man. The one thing we can control is how hard we play on defense. The full-court press is something we use from time to time, depending on the match ups. It's been hit or miss.”
Weirich, who leads the team with a remarkable 4.1 steals per game, has been key in helping the 'Cats to stop their opponents this season.
“Defense, for us, is the most important thing,” she said. “That has been my personal goal is to be the best defender. Our team is really defensive-oriented. When we play well defensively, we play well offensively. Our defense creates our offense.”
How well the team rebounds will go a long way in determining the Wildcats' success this season. Thus far, Avers leads the team with 5.5 rebounds per game, followed by Wank (5 reb.) and Blausey (3.3 reb.).
“Our team is small compared to a lot of the other teams in the league,” said Bench, the team's primary shooting guard. “We're not that big, but rebounds are critical because we aren't that big and we can't give up second chances to the other teams.”
The four losses have come to quality opponents who sport a combined record of 24-6. Fortunately, only one was in the conference, against Rossford (44-40) in a game that the Wildcats led until the final minute before losing the lead. Following the loss to the Bulldogs on Nov. 30, Woodmore won three straight before falling to Oak Harbor (42-31) last weekend.
The three wins came against league foes, starting with a dramatic 54-50 win over Otsego in overtime. The Wildcats were able to win their other two contests in convincing fashion when they defeated Eastwood (45-33) and Fostoria (45-24). Their other victory came against Old Fort (63-21) earlier in the season.
The win against the Knights came after Woodmore blew a late lead, sending the game into overtime. But O'Connor came up big, scoring 16 points, including the go-ahead free throws with 40.4 seconds in the extra session, and Weirich and Bench each finished with 11 points apiece.
“It was very important (to beat Otsego),” Bench said, “Because we needed the motivation going into our games against Eastwood and Fostoria.”
Weirich is hoping that the win over the Knights could serve as a turning point.
“(Beating Otsego) was a statement to the league that we are out to compete,” she said. “Beating Otsego got our heads in the right place to help us believe that we can actually do this; it helped us mentally. We know we can make a stand and (do something) in the league.”
The Wildcats enter a key stretch beginning next week when they host Margaretta on Thursday. It will be the first of six home games in a seven-game stretch, and presents an opportunity for Woodmore to play the top two teams in the league, Rossford (5-2, 4-0 NBC) and Elmwood (5-0, 3-0 NBC).
Clair says the thing that stands out about this group is its camaraderie.
“The chemistry is amazing,” Clair said. “People ask me, 'What's your favorite thing about this team?' It's coming to practice every day and working with this group. The chemistry is great, everybody gets along. This has been a tremendous group of girls to be around.”