At some point during the season, every team faces adversity. That is a given.
What matters most is how that adversity is dealt with. And, whether or not a team can put their struggles behind them and move forward.
The Oak Harbor Rockets have answered their early-season struggles in impressive fashion, winning seven consecutive games after falling to two of the state's best teams, Bellevue and Clyde, earlier in the season.
After beginning the season 4-0, a streak that included victories over Rossford (63-54) and Genoa (61-45), Oak Harbor fell to Bellevue (64-42) and Clyde (72-37) in back-to-back games to drop to 4-2.
That humbling experience was difficult for the Rockets, who, after going 16-8 and advancing to the sectional final last year, had high hopes and were looking to take that next step in establishing themselves.
Since dropping those two games, Oak Harbor has been dominant, outscoring their opponents by an average of 18.1 points as they've improved to 12-2 overall and 8-1 in the Sandusky Bay Conference.
Coach Tom Kontak, the 2013 Alan Miller Jeweler’s All-Press Coach of the Year, says things have changed since the team’s early-season setbacks.
“I think you have a group that has learned to play with each other,” he said. “On the defensive end, we’ve been consistent — we play man-to-man, pressure zone and have been fairly effective with those adjustments. And I love our stamina and conditioning.”
He says there’s more to it than just the play of the team’s defense. It’s about having the proper frame of mind that allows them to compete at their highest level.
“There is a basic motivation with this group,” Kontak, who owns a career record of 118-54 (.686), dating back to his days in Genoa where he won two league titles and regularly had his teams competing hard in the tournament.
“The kids have the respect to wear the uniform of our school and our families. We want to be grateful for the opportunity and share our time together — we enjoy each other’s company. We want to have a disciplined, passionate and competitive locker room so that we have a common goal and that’s to be the best we can. We don’t take that for granted.”
That seven-game win streak includes a rousing 47-46 victory over rival Port Clinton, a 10-3 club that beat the Rockets three times last year, including in the Division II sectional final during a hard-fought game that saw the Rockets fall, 52-45, after entering the fourth quarter tied. This year, because of slightly decreasing enrollment on the girls side, the Rockets were dropped down to D-III for this year’s tournament, which should fare well for Kontak and his team.
Sophomore forward Andrea Cecil leads the way, averaging 20.4 points and 8.4 rebounds. Her scoring average, which is second in the league, has helped pace the Oak Harbor offense all season. Cecil has scored in double figures in 12 of the team’s 13 games and is adept at handling the ball in the open court.
Freshman Emma Barney is second on the team at 10.4 points and 1.9 assists and has consistently provided the yin to Cecil’s yang on offense. Like Cecil, she is able to score in a variety of ways, whether she is driving to the hoop, getting to the free-throw line or hitting perimeter jumpers.
Finding a legitimate third option on offense will go a long way in determining if Oak Harbor is able to become even more potent offensively.
“That’s been something we’ve worked on,” Kontak said, referencing how the team is trying to get a consistent third scorer to help complement Cecil and Barney. “Maddy, Amanda and Athena have had their moments.”
The Rockets run a three-guard lineup that features Barney, Athena Eli and Amanda Hetrick running the point. Cecil, who stands 5-foot-11, is the wing and sometimes serves as a point forward and Maddy Rathbun plays in the post.
Emma Bergman, Olivia Rollins, Alexa Weis and Brandy Lochotzki are the primary reserves off the bench.
Rathbun, a freshman who stands 5-10, has, like Barney, exceeded the learning curve. She’s averaging 7.2 points and 5.6 rebounds.
Eli (6.1 ppg), a sophomore and younger sister of former girls cage standout Simone Eli (Genoa/Bowling Green State University), is the club’s primary three-point shooter, and has scored 46 percent of her points from beyond the arc. Kontak notes that Eli is also one of the team’s best defenders and is usually faced with the task of guarding the opposing club’s best player.
And then there’s Hetrick, a senior who has provided leadership while running the offense. This season, Hetrick is averaging 3.5 points and is first on the club with 2.3 assists. She’s scoring even better as of late, averaging 5.8 points in the last four games.
At this point, Kontak says Oak Harbor has to focus on finishing strong this season.
“I look at each season in different segments,” said Kontak, who is 27-10 (.730) in two seasons with the Rockets. “There’s the beginning where you go from the preseason to the season and getting ready for that. And then there’s the midseason point where you have to find the commitment level and see their emotional level.”
“And there’s the final stretch,” Kontak continued, “where you try to compete for a league title or position yourself for the tournament.”