Local girls basketball teams ready for the tournament

Yaneek Smith

Press Sports Editor

For the area basketball teams that are rebuilding, the tournament is a chance to finish off the season on a high note and build some momentum heading into the offseason.
But it’s not just about competing, it’s about trying to win a sectional or district title that shows a team is for real.
The best area school of the season has been Woodmore, which is seeded second in the Division IV Otsego District. The Wildcats will face (11) Cardinal Stritch in a sectional semifinal on Feb. 16 at Bowling Green High School, and the winner takes on St. Joseph Central Catholic two days later, also in Bowling Green. Woodmore won its only matchup with the Crimson Streaks, defeating them 52-38 earlier this season.
Last season, the Wildcats won a sectional title before falling to New Riegel in the district semifinals. Two years ago, Woodmore advanced to the district finals before falling to Toledo Christian. Oddly enough, the Eagles are the top seed in the district, so the teams could be on a collision course to face one another in another district final. In 2019, the Wildcats made a Cinderella run and advanced to the district finals before losing to Delta.
Woodmore has won one district title in program history, that coming in 2002 under legendary coach Mike DeStazio when the Wildcats upset perennial power Liberty-Benton, 42-41, in a Div. III district final.
Woodmore coach Kyle Clair, now in his 15th season at the helm, talked about the possibilities that the tournament brings.
“One of the things that I always think about with the tournament is that it’s a new season; there’s a different feel. You have to be on your game, or the season comes to an abrupt ending,” he said. “You’re watching your team grow and get to a point where they’re playing at their peak, and you hope to prolong the season as long as you can and make a good run at it.”
The Wildcats (16-3) have won sectional titles in four of the last five seasons.
“I’ve been around long enough to experience the stress and excitement. When we made a fairly deep tournament run to the district finals in ’19, I think we were sixth in the league, but we lost some games we shouldn’t have. You catch lightning in a bottle — all it really takes is one special game or quarter — and you don’t want to let go. You want to ride that wave as long as it takes you; that’s a beautiful thing,” said Clair. “It’s special in both ways (because) you have to be prepared, regardless of where you are.”
On the other side of the bracket is No. 5 Gibsonburg, which will face (7) Maumee Valley Country Day in a sectional final at Genoa on Feb. 18.
The Lady Bears are 13-6 and have completed the rebuilding process under fourth-year coach Bo Evarts after years of losing. It’s been some time since Gibsonburg won a sectional title.
“We’re excited. It’s my fourth year, I had these seniors when they were freshmen, and they just kept working hard and buying in. In the second half of last year, we were competitive in almost every game. This summer, we probably won 70% of our games,” Evarts said. “Our girls set goals – one was to be over .500, and as the year went on, we kept winning games. We’re just playing more confidence.
“This senior class has come through with resilience — Jenna Bloomfield, Ellie Stout, Kira Fox, Sophie Simmons and Mel Otermat,” Evarts said.
Lake, which is 8-11, has a reasonable path to a Div. II sectional title — the Flyers, seeded fifth in the Division II Anthony Wayne District, face (7) Scott on Feb. 16 at Clay, and should they come away victorious, will face (4) Wauseon two days later in a sectional final.
Lake went on a magical run three years ago, winning a district championship despite going 10-12 in the regular season. The Flyers, seeded ninth in the Div. III Anthony Wayne District, defeated four Northern Buckeye Conference teams, starting with an upset of the top seed Eastwood in the sectional semifinals. Lake then defeated (4) Woodmore, (2) Otsego in double overtime and (7) Elmwood to make it to regionals, where it lost to Ottawa-Glandorf.
“We were playing a lot of new, young players in roles that they struggled with throughout the regular season, but right near the end, things really clicked and the girls played more freely,” said Lake coach Joe Nowak. “During our run, there were certainly players that played well, but there were so many other times where it looked like we may have been out of it, only to have an unsuspecting player make a huge play that would get us right back into the game. It was just one of those runs where, as a coach, you manage to push all the right buttons and the players start to believe in themselves.
“I always sell the girls on the idea that it’s not necessarily the things that you do that you’ll remember most, but it’s the people who are right there alongside you as you accomplish goals that makes it special,” Nowak said. “Years later, when they think back to the run and they remember shots or plays that were made by other people on the team and how much joy and excitement they felt at that time, I think it just adds a whole new layer to how special times like that become.”
Oak Harbor, which is seeded sixth in the same district, faces No. 9 Maumee at Liberty Center on Feb. 18 in a sectional final. The Rockets have not won a sectional title since Tom Kontak was the coach.
In the Div. III Millbury District, No. 7 Northwood takes on (8) Swanton at Otsego on Feb. 15 in a sectional semifinal. The winner faces (5) Delta three days later. Eastwood, which is seeded ninth, plays (11) Ottawa Hills at Otsego on Feb. 15 and, should they win, will face the top seed, Liberty Center, for the sectional title. Genoa, seeded 10th, plays No. 6 Elmwood at Toledo Christian, and a win would set them up to play (3) Evergreen in a sectional final.
In Div. I, No. 14 Clay faces (16) Bowsher on Feb. 15 in Genoa. The winner will face one of the top teams in the state in No. 2 Fremont Ross in a sectional final three days later. Waite, seeded 20th, faced the top seed, Anthony Wayne at Fostoria on Feb. 18 in a sectional final.


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