A long season of building, learning and public anticipation appears to be on the
brink of reaping unprecedented success for coach Manny May’s sixth-ranked Waite Lady Indians basketball team.
The 22-2 Indians were to meet a Cinderella Perrysburg squad in a Division I regional final at Norwalk High School Saturday afternoon with a berth in the D-I state semifinals on the line.
Riding a six-game win streak that has includes City League and district titles acquired by beating fellow state-ranked foe Start in both cases, Waite went into the regional final as a heavy favorite to advance on to the final four on March 20 at 6:15 p.m. at Ohio State’s Value City Arena.
The Indians have won 13 straight against Ohio teams, but Waite’s winding road to this point has also experienced two potholes — both against defending state champions.
The first took place midway through the regular season slate in a 56-47 loss to
South Euclid Regina, the Cleveland-area defending D-III state champs. Prior to the start of the CL final four the Indians took needed inventory of their true status heading into the postseason by getting pasted, 72-56, at the hands of visiting Michigan Class B defending state champion Detroit Country Day — one of the nation’s storied prep girls hoops programs.
Waite surrendered an average of 66 points in those pair of setbacks.
“Against Regina we didn’t execute late in the game, we took minimalized shots, and we pressed too much,” May pointed out. “We weren’t patient enough. Country Day had so much size around their offense and we didn’t execute in the third quarter.”
May believes those eye-opening losing experiences have been far more beneficial on the whole than the 22 wins.
“Losses teach you more how to win than winning does,” he said following the Indians’ 73-34 crushing of Lorain Southview in the regional semis. “It taught (the team) a lesson in those losses on how to execute and win at crunch time.”
Since the loss to Country Day the Indians have beat their drums and shot devastating arrows through opponents by an average scoring margin of 63.3-34.2, and all in tournament games.
It isn’t just Waite’s scoring output that is glaring brightly. The Indians are going to get plenty of buckets with the likes of their No. 2 nationally ranked prep star, senior Natasha Howard (24 pts.), junior Shanice McNeal (12.8 pts.) and senior Mariah Haynes (11 pts.).
It is also the full court defensive effort in limiting opponents’ scoring opportunities, particularly by creating turnovers generated in large part off steals that is impressive.
Against Southview, the Indians coughed up nine first quarter turnovers and trailed 13-9 early in the second quarter, and then exploded on a dizzying 41-7 run that extended to the late portions of the third quarter to seize full control, 50-20. By the end of the 39-point blowout victory Waite had forced the Saints into 40 turnovers with 22 deriving from steals. The Indians committed just nine more of their own turnovers over the final three quarters.
On the season, the Indians are averaging a mind-boggling 17 steals a game and in transition Howard, Haynes, McNeal and junior Brooke Hunt and senior Courtney Jackson exhibit a well-tuned knack of turning them into counter scores.
As May pointed out, Waite has learned how to win and execute at “crunch time.”
“We preach standing in front of your man and that no pass is too high, low, or far to steal,” said May. “We’re selling it as a team concept that if you do your job (defensively) your teammates can do theirs.”
“It’s not how you start, it is how you finish,” Haynes said following the team’s 54-42 district title win over the Start Spartans.
In that game the Indians trailed in the third quarter after playing a first half riddled with silly turnovers. Instead of letting the opposition’s defensive scheme get the best of them, the Indians took May’s halftime advice and reversed roles in the second half. Haynes scored a game-high 20 points in the win.
“In the first half our defense was pretty good, but our offense wasn’t working and we made too many mistakes, so we came out in the second half, calmed down and started playing both good offense and good defense,” Haynes said.
“When they settle down and start playing good man-to-man defense, stop gambling and slow it down, they start playing good, fundamental basketball,” May explained.
Clamping down defensively and erasing the early jitters in these postseason games figures to carry the Indians closer to that coveted first state semifinal appearance.
And if all continues to go right — the school’s first state championship in the sport.