OTTOVILLE – When the girls basketball season began near the end of November there were probably not a lot of believers that Ottoville could return to the state tournament for a third year in a row.
After all, it had lost two-time first-team All-Ohio player Bridget Landin, along with its No. 3 and No. 4 scorers, C.J. Kemper and Amber Miller, from last year’s Division IV state runner-up team.
But Ottoville (24-3) defied the doubters’ predictions and will play Shadyside (24-4) at 3 p.m. Friday in a Division IV state semifinal.
Getting there was a gradual process Ottoville coach Dave Kleman said earlier this week.
“We were not at that level early. We were hoping at the beginning of the year we could get to that level. We build our teams as the season goes on,” he said.
This is Ottoville’s eighth trip to the state tournament in Kleman’s 27 seasons as its head coach.
Its only losses this season were 59-50 to Ottawa-Glandorf, 43-40 to Kalida and 46-28 to Minster in a rematch of last season’s Division IV state championship game.
The Kalida loss and a 54-53 win over Division III regional runner-up Liberty-Benton might have been turning points for the Big Green.
“We had a snag there right after the first of the year against Kalida. We didn’t play very well,” Kleman said. “We were not very happy with our effort and we dedicated ourselves to getting a lot better. And we did.
“Our win at the end of the season against Liberty-Benton, I think, has really propelled us here in the tournament.”
Senior guard Kasey Knippen, one of two returning starters, leads No. 6 Ottoville at 14.0 points a game. Nicole Knippen averages 9.0 points a game and Haley Hoersten scores 7.8 points a game. Quinley Schlagbaum, the other returning starter, and center Brynlee Hanneman both average 5.6 points a game.
Shadyside (24-4) is a team that likes to run and put up 3-pointers, but also can play some defense, its coach Serge Gentile said on an Ohio High School Athletic Association teleconference.
“We average eight threes a game, we’ve made 221 threes for the season as a team. We’ve got five girls out there who can shoot the three at any time. That’s one of our strengths,” he said. “But when the ball isn’t going into the basket you’ve got to find other ways to get some buckets.
“Sometimes it’s contagious. If you make four, you might make 10. If you miss six, you might miss 20. You have to find ways to get a bucket. And you do that by getting stops and running the floor a little bit.
“We think we play our best in transition and we’re able to speed the other team up. The key has been defense. We’ve been able to play pretty good defense,” Gentile said.
Two sophomores lead Shadyside in scoring. Baylee Wach, a 5-7 guard, averages 18 points a game. Tory Hendershot, a 5-5 guard, averages 12 points and 7 rebounds a game.
Friday’s first Division IV semifinal will match defending state champion Minster (24-1) against No. 9 Willoughby Cornerstone Christian (23-4) at 1 p.m.
The Wildcats’ only loss was in two overtimes against Fort Loramie, the team they beat 43-29 in the Vandalia regional championship game last Saturday night.
Minster is led by 6-2 post player Courtney Prenger (12.0 points, 7.1 rebounds), a Xavier recruit, and sophomore guard Ivy Wolf (13.0 points, 3.0 assists), who was the Midwest Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
Demaris Wolf averages 9.0 points a game, Janae Hoying averages 8.0 and Jessica Falk scores 5.2 points a game.
Minster defeated Ottoville 63-48 in last year’s state championship game for the Wildcats’ third girls basketball state championship.
“It’s a different team, a different year. We really don’t talk about last year that much,” Minster coach Mike Wiss said. “We don’t put a whole lot of emphasis on what occurred last year. We’re trying to play in the moment.”
“We ask them to act like they’ve been there before. It’s in your body language, it’s how you handle yourself. It’s when a bad call is made, you don’t shrug your shoulders. It’s when someone walks in the door they don’t know if you’re winning or losing based on how you handle yourself.
“We’re happy to be there, we’re facing a great opponent and both teams are going to try to take away each other’s strengths,” Wiss said.
Riley Stopp (13.0 points a game), Madison Cloonan (12.9 points, 8.3 rebounds) and Michaela Cloonan (12.1 points, 5.7 assists) lead Cornerstone, which played a schedule of mostly bigger division schools, including Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame, Akron Hoban, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Elyria Catholic, Euclid and Youngstown Ursuline.
“I don’t think many Division IV teams play these kind of teams and those kind of games,” Cornerstone coach Lisa Stopp said. “Strength of schedule is huge. It allows us to be battle tested and ready.
“Defense has been our staple since Day 1. We’re up tempo, we like to push the pace and we like to have our defense translate into offense,” she said.