It wasn't easy, but the Johnstown-Monroe High School girls basketball team won its first league title since the 2004-05 season.
The Johnnies started 4-3 overall and lost two of their first five MBC games before rebounding to win their final nine league contests.
They tied Utica for the title at 12-2 to finish ahead of Centerburg and Fredericktown, both of which went 10-4. Danville was fifth (5-9), followed by East Knox (4-10), Loudonville (2-12) and Northridge (1-13).
"I think we might have been a little overconfident early in the season," said guard Marissa Sheets, the team's only senior. "We had just about everyone back after making (a Division III) district final. It made us realize how hard we needed to work."
In the program's first district-final appearance, the Johnnies lost to eventual state champion Africentric 93-54 last season.
The Johnnies clinched their share of the league title by defeating Northridge 65-37 on Feb. 9. It was the program's final MBC game, because the Johnnies leave for the Licking County League in August.
Junior guard Natalie Carpenter led Johnstown with 20 points and junior guard Laiken Valentine had 12 points. Sheets and sophomore forward Paige Cannon both scored 11 points.
"It was pretty great because we hadn't won a title in a long time," Sheets said. "We came close last year, but to finally win it this time is pretty special."
The Johnnies were seeded third of 23 teams in the Division III district tournament behind Africentric and North Union. They opened Feb. 16 against 20th-seeded Columbus Academy in the first round.
The winner plays host to 22nd-seeded Horizon Science on Thursday, Feb. 21. The Hawks are 3-18 and did not play Johnstown this season.
The second-round winner plays fifth-seeded Liberty Union, 11th-seeded Fairbanks or 16th-seeded Marion Elgin in a district semifinal at 6 p.m. Feb. 28 at Worthington Christian Middle School. The district final is at 7 p.m. March 2.
"We haven't put everything together shooting-wise and our defense really has helped us out," coach Carl Dufford said. "But we keep getting better and better. We had 20-plus assists (against Northridge) and we haven't been forcing the ball."
The Johnnies were 18-4 overall after closing the regular season Feb. 14 with a 60-46 win over North Union in a possible district-final preview. Carpenter scored a career-high 35 points and junior forward Makenzie Spang added nine points.
"That was a win-win situation for us," Dufford said. "We got to see what we do that works and what we might need to work on for down the road."
Boys basketball team opens at Mount Gilead
The boys basketball team was 12-8 overall and 9-4 in the MBC before playing Northridge on Feb. 15.
The Johnnies are seeded 13th of 24 teams in the Division I district tournament and open at ninth-seeded Mount Gilead on Saturday, Feb. 23.
The Indians finished the regular season 16-6 and did not play Johnstown this season.
"We're happy with the draw," coach Kevin Martin said. "We knew we had to go on the road and I think we were able to go up against a couple of teams that we can match up against pretty well."
The winner plays at seventh-seeded Marion Pleasant on Feb. 27 in the second round.
On Feb. 8, the Johnnies defeated Loudonville 58-45 in an MBC game. Sophomore guard Cody Farley scored 15 points with four 3-pointers and junior guard William Orr also had 15 points. Freshman forward Jason Carter added 11.
Bullard wins title at St. Charles meet
The wrestling team finished 10th (77 points) in the 14-team Nye Cardinal Classic on Feb. 9 at St. Charles behind champion Lancaster (246).
Junior Clayton Bullard won the 195-pound championship. Junior Alex Workman (152) and freshman Hayden Bullard (120) both placed sixth.
The Johnnies competed Feb. 15 and 16 in a Division III sectional tournament at Madison Plains. The top four in each weight class advanced to district Friday, Feb. 22, and Saturday, Feb. 23, at Duncan Falls Philo. The top four competitors in each weight class at district will advance to state.
Last season, 2012 graduate Joey Dismuke finished third in the Heath district. He was the only Johnstown competitor, as the Johnnies tied Madison Plains and Newcomerstown for 28th (16) behind champion Nelsonville-York (129.5) as 48 teams scored.