A fond memory from senior forward Jimmy Hanley's youth came in March of his sixth-grade year when he made a trip to Athens to watch the Ready High School boys basketball team compete in the 2008 Division III regional tournament.
That season, the Silver Knights beat Wheelersburg 48-46 in a regional semifinal before losing to Sugarcreek Garaway 51-47 in a regional final at Ohio University.
Now one of eight seniors in the program, Hanley helped Ready surpass that finish at the same site.
Ready beat Wheelersburg 47-35 in a regional semifinal March 13 and Lucasville Valley 38-33 in a regional final March 15 to take a 21-5 record into the state tournament.
"We played (at Ohio University) over the summer and did well, so it's nice being back," Hanley said. "In 2008, I remember the regional final was so cool to see. As soon as that happened, I had a dream of coming here."
The Knights, who are in the state tournament for the fifth time, play Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph in a semifinal at 10:45 a.m. Friday, March 21, at Ohio State. The winner plays Lima Central Catholic or St. Bernard Roger Bacon for the championship at 4:30 p.m. March 22, at the same site.
VASJ won the Division IV state title last season and previously won Division I titles in 1991 and 1992 and Division II championships in 1994 and 1995.
The Vikings start five juniors including Carlton Bragg, a 6-foot-8 forward who averages 18.7 points and nine rebounds and has Division I offers from more than 20 schools, including Ohio State.
Junior Brian Parker is a 6-3 guard who averages 18 points, 5.5 assists and six rebounds and has offers from Eastern Illinois and Cleveland State.
Other key players include junior guard Simon Texidor Jr. (12.3 points), 6-8 junior post player Derek Pardon (11.6 points, 10.4 rebounds) and junior point guard Maurice Johnson.
"I'd say we're pleased but not surprised (to make it to state)," coach Don Worstell said. "We're so excited to have the opportunity."
VASJ, which lost to Watterson 68-65 on Dec. 28, is 21-7. Ready lost to Watterson 56-52 on Dec. 20 and 46-38 on Jan. 31.
"We're going to put our best foot forward and see what we can do," Worstell said. "We've been able to see (VASJ) a couple times throughout the year and we're very impressed. They're extremely athletic. They'll be the largest team we'll have played. When you play a team like them you obviously have to shoot the ball well."
Roger Bacon is 21-4 and Lima Central Catholic is 23-4 entering their state semifinal.
Roger Bacon is led by 6-3 senior guards Carlos Jackson and Austin Frentsos, who average 16.5 and 15 points, respectively. Both have scored more than 1,000 career points.
Senior Fred Moore is a 6-7 post player who averages 11.5 points and seven rebounds.
Lima Central Catholic features senior guard Martyce Kimbrough and sophomore guard Xavier Simpson, who both average 18 points. Kimbrough scored his 1,000th career point in a 64-37 regional semifinal win over Worthington Christian on March 13 and will play for the University of Indianapolis.
Ready is in the state tournament for the first time since 2010, when it lost to Orrville 50-48 in a semifinal.
In the regional final, senior guard Shane Lee scored 11 points and Hanley shot 7-for-10 from the free-throw line and had nine points.
Lee and senior forward Josh Gantz each scored 12 points in the regional semifinal.
"This is such a special group of kids," Worstell said. "I'm so proud of them."
Chemistry benefited girls basketball team
Led by a senior class that featured four key players, the girls basketball team made its first Division III district championship run since it won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.
The senior group featured Margie Berkemeyer (post player), Bobbie Menke (post player/wing player), Elisabeth Palazzo (post player/wing player) and Caroline Riewe (guard).
"We were all best friends and I think it showed," Riewe said. "Ever since our freshman year, we said our senior year we wanted to win a district championship."
Riewe averaged 10.8 points, 4.5 assists and more than four steals while making third-team all-district. Berkemeyer averaged 10.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and shot better than 60 percent from the floor while making honorable mention all-district. Menke averaged four points and Palazzo averaged 3.6.
The Silver Knights, who lost to Jamestown Greeneview 50-43 on March 5 in a regional semifinal at Springfield to finish 18-7 overall, expect to return a pair of starters in junior forward Lauren Ruth and sophomore guard Delaney Cutteridge.
Ruth averaged 14.9 points, four rebounds and 2.5 assists and shot 51 percent from the floor while making second-team all-district. Cutteridge averaged 8.5 points.
Also eligible to return are sophomores Rachel Neff (forward) and Ellie McAndrew (guard) and freshman Ally Wiseman (guard).
The Knights tied Watterson for second (5-3) in the CCL behind DeSales (6-2) and ahead of Hartley (4-4) and Columbus School for Girls (0-8).
Ready earned the fourth seed for the district tournament and beat 18th-seeded Cardington (64-31 on Feb. 15), 20th-seeded CSG (77-28 on Feb. 19) and 12th-seeded Utica (62-31 on Feb. 25 at Worthington Christian Middle School) to set up a matchup with second-seeded North Union in a district final March 1 at Worthington Christian Middle School.
The Knights, who lost to North Union 50-43 on Jan. 18, won the rematch 59-57 for their fifth district title in 33 seasons under coach Joe Lang.
"Obviously (Ruth and Cutteridge) are going to be huge for us next year," Lang said. "We have some kids from the (junior varsity) team that dressed for the tournament. We've got to become more skilled in the offseason.
"The thing we all felt all along was that besides their work ethic, they truly liked each other. We did not have one second of a problem. And they all competed."