Ottoville has played in plenty of big games over the last four years.
But for starting seniors Abby Siekfer, Rachel Turnwald, Rachel Beining and Nicole Vorst, it’s their first trip to the state basketball tournament.
So who better to listen to than the Ottoville girls all-time leading scorer Karla Wenzlick Keller, who made two trips to the state tournament. Wenzlick went to state in 1993 as a freshman, then returned in 1996 as a senior.
“It was a neat atmosphere, to be on the court with everyone cheering,” Wenzlick said. “It’s one thing to watch it on TV or in the stands, but to be down there on the floor with everyone in town cheering for you.”
Wenzlick was the Putnam County League Player of the Year in 1994, 1995 and 1996. She scored 1,851 career points, the most in the girls basketball history of the PCL.
In The Lima News’ recent Top 25 Players over the last 25 years, Wenzlick was ranked No. 13.
Wenzlick Keller is now a physical therapist and has been able to follow the Big Green’s season. Ottoville is making its fifth trip to the state tournament after going in 1993, 1996, 2005, 2007. It’s looking for its first girls basketball title.
Ottoville (27-0), ranked No. 1 in the state, will meet No. 7 Fort Loramie (25-3) in the Division IV state semifinals at 3 p.m. today at Ohio State’s Value City Arena.
“We’ve been watching the paper and keeping up on them,” Wenzlick said. “We’ve gone to a couple of games. … You always want your alma mater to do well. They’ve worked hard and had a fun time.”
As a freshman, Wenzlick was on the the 1993 Ottoville team that reached the state semifinals before losing to Upper Scioto Valley, 74-51. Her sister, Tracy, was a sophomore on that team.
Tracy Wenzlick, another key cog to the Big Green of the mid-90s, scored 1,364 points for her career.
“It was a fun time,” Karla said. “No one expected us to get that far (in ‘93). The town came together and it was a great following. … It was great playing with Tracy. We have a lot of memories.”
In 1995, Wenzlick was a junior and Tracy was a senior as the Big Green went as far as the regional finals. With a number of seniors graduating, including Tracy, few expected a deep tournament run in 1996.
However, Karla Wenzlick wasn’t listening to what the so-called experts thought. She scored 583 points in ‘96 in powering the Big Green back to the state tournament.
That year Ottoville lost to Southcharleston Southeastern 52-49 in the state semifinals.
“You appreciate it more when you are older,” Wenzlick said of her second trip to state. “When you’re there, you really want to win. But later on, you realize what an accomplishment it was.”
In ‘96, Wenzlick was the Division IV Ohio Player of the Year. That’s the same award that Ottoville center Abby Siefker won just a few days ago.
“That was good for her,” Wenzlick said. “I know she’s put a lot of hard work into it.”
Current Ottoville coach Dave Kleman was Wenzlick’s coach, as well. He returns to state today with a record of 400-95 in 21 years. Wenzlick felt Kleman gets the most out of his players.
“He tries to keep everyone included,” she said. “He can coach the best out of his players. Everyone knows their roles. He’ll said, ‘You’re not the best scorer, but here’s your role.’ He’s a very good coach at maxing out a player’s potential.”
Tracy Wenzlick was named The Lima News’ Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 1995. Her name now is Tracy Wenzlick Sharp and she’s a doctor in family practice in Lima.
Karla Wenzlick Keller was The Lima News’ Scholar-Athlete in 1996. The physical therapist plans to be in Columbus for today’s game.
So what advice would she give this year’s Big Green?
“Enjoy it, but keep your focus,” Wenzlick said. “It can be intimidating. You don’t want to get wrapped up in the crowd, but take a few minutes to take it all in. The whole town will be there. But, remember when it’s over, they’ll love you in the end no matter what.”