For Ottoville and Buckeye Central, the rematch comes one year later on a bigger stage.
The two teams, who will play in a Division IV semifinal in the girls state basketball tournament at 1 p.m. Thursday, played each other in a regional semifinal a year ago. Buckeye Central might not want to use that game for a scouting report, though, because Ottoville won 52-36 and led by as many as 23 points in the second half.
But it’s a different year and both teams’ lineups have been altered by graduation heading into their game Thursday at the Value City Arena.
Ottoville (26-2) has three new starters this season. Buckeye Central (26-1) has four first-year starters.
So, how does a team lose 80 percent of its starting lineup and get all the way to a state tournament?
“I think success breeds success,” Buckeye Central coach Greg Moore said, pointing to the Buckettes’ trip to the volleyball state tournament last fall. “These kids worked really, really hard all summer. We had two freshmen come in that we knew were going to be pretty good ballplayers but they stepped up even bigger than our estimation of what they could be.
“And when you’ve got your best point guard, your best player back, it’s a lot easier,” he said.
That point guard is senior Jenna Karl, Buckeye Central’s career scoring leader with more than 1,500 points, and a two-time first-team All-Ohio selection. The 5-foot, 7-inch senior averages 14.8 points, 4.8 assists and 7.5 rebounds a game.
Ottoville also has a two-time first-team All-Ohio player in 6-foot senior Bridget Landin, who averages 14.2 points and 7.6 rebounds a game.
“Landin is just a great player. I didn’t sleep for two days last year after we played her,” Moore said.
Between them, the two schools have been in 14 state tournaments – seven by Ottoville and seven by Buckeye Central, including a state championship in 1985.
Buckeye Central’s leading scorer is 5-11 junior Courtney Pifher, who averages 17.6 points and 9 rebounds a game. Lexi Evak, a 6-2 sophomore, averages 6.2 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. Taylor Ratliff, a 5-4 freshman, scores 6.2 points a game and 5-8 senior Emily Stump scores 2.7 points a game. Kyleigh Brown, a 5-7 freshman, is the top scorer off the bench at 6.2 points a game.
Ottoville’s starters besides Landin are Kasey Knippen (11.5 points a game), C.J. Kemper (9.5), Amber Miller (6.5) and Quinley Schlagbaum (3.9). Abi Hilvers (4.4) is the top scorer off the bench.
Ottoville went to the state tournament for the first time in 1993 in coach Dave Kleman’s first season.
He says that trip helped create the foundation of a program that also has returned to Columbus in 1996, 2005, 2007, 2013, last year and this year.
“The first year we went down to state and that kind of set the table for everything else because all the little girls were watching and they wanted to be able to do that. And we’ve had success along the way and that gave the incentive for those young kids to work at it,” he said
One of the trademarks of those teams has always been defense.
“I think the kids really buy into it. We like to get up and pressure and play help defense and take people out of what they like to do. We try to take you out of your sets and what you like to do and see if you can adjust to that. We’ve been very successful with that approach the last few years,” Kleman said.
One of the things that has changed over the last two and a half decades is scouting.
“I’ve always had a thick scouting report on a team but I think that’s more for me than the kids. It helps me analyze what they (opponents) do and break it down. I don’t expect the kids to remember it all, that’s up to me. We take a few things from the scouting report, what we want to do defensively, what we want to do offensively and try to implement that before practice,” Kleman said.
“It’s a lot easier now. I used to run myself ragged going to games, watching and scouting. Now you can get it on (video tool) Hudl or online and you can sit at home in your La-Z-Boy and do your scouting. That’s nice for me at my age,” he said.
In Thursday’s other Division IV state semifinal, Minster (24-3) will play Waterford (26-1) at 3 p.m. Waterford was the 2016 Division IV state champion and was state runner-up last season.
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