The Olentangy Orange High School girls basketball team wrapped up a third consecutive OCC-Capital Division championship Feb. 8 with a 58-39 win at Big Walnut.
One aspect senior guard Kierstynn Myers believes separates this year's league-title run from the previous two is an opponent that the Pioneers had to get past to reach their achievement.
Olentangy replaced Hilliard Bradley in the OCC-Capital as part of OCC realignment this school year, and the Pioneers edged the Braves 57-52 on Dec. 15 and 64-60 on Jan. 26 en route to finishing 14-0 in the league.
Orange went 13-1 to win the OCC-Capital in 2010-11 and 14-0 last season.
"Last year, the (OCC-Capital) wasn't as hard as it was this year," Myers said. "Olentangy came in and we had two really good games with them. We've been through some ups and downs, but we've all worked so hard and are really happy to get the title."
Myers hopes the tougher league schedule, combined with challenging non-league games against teams such as Northland (69-59 loss on Dec. 10), Africentric (67-63 win on Jan. 5) and Reynoldsburg (62-58 loss on Jan. 14), has prepared the Pioneers for the Division I district tournament.
In last week's state polls, Reynoldsburg was ranked fifth in Division I and Africentric was sixth in Division III.
Orange is the third seed for the district tournament and will open against 38th-seeded Whetstone at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at home. The winner will play 39th-seeded Chillicothe in the second round at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the home of the higher seed.
The Pioneers have lost back-to-back district championship games, and fourth-seeded Dublin Coffman and fifth-seeded Northland could be potential opponents if they get to that level again. Northland beat Orange 51-50 in a district final last season.
Myers has spent significant time working on her defense this season, and she believes that helped Orange go 19-2 during the regular season.
The Pioneers have won seven games in a row since the loss to Reynoldsburg, including a 67-28 win over Franklin Heights on Feb. 5 to clinch the league title.
Junior post player Sarah Sagerer had a season-high 17 points against Franklin Heights and topped that performance by scoring 19 against Big Walnut.
"It's an accomplishment, but there's no celebration about us clinching it," coach Mary Ann Grimes said. "I'll give them (last) weekend off and we'll get ready for the tournament. We've been district runners-up twice now and we can't let that elude us one more time. We can't let it get away from us.
"I think it's a great draw. I like where we're at. Last year we beat Northland by one (50-49 in the regular season) and they beat us by one (in a district final). It would be good (to face the Vikings again). We stubbed our toe against them the last time. We just have to play really well against the really good teams."
Liberty gets boost heading into tourney
Liberty thwarted Coffman's hopes of winning the outright OCC-Central title when it upset the visiting Shamrocks 46-39 on Feb. 8 in its regular-season finale.
That gave the Patriots four wins in five games to close the regular season and a 13-8 overall record heading into the Division I district tournament.
Liberty is seeded 17th and will open the postseason at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, against 26th-seeded Grove City at home. The Greyhounds are 8-13 but went 6-1 against non-league teams.
Among Grove City's top players is 6-foot-4 senior center Kristen Mesler, who had 17 points in a 63-43 loss to Lancaster on Feb. 8 in a regular-season finale.
Last season, Liberty lost to sixth-seeded Gahanna 40-28 in the second round of the district tournament and Grove City lost to Watterson 69-34 in a first-round game. The Greyhounds last won a postseason game in 2009.
The Liberty-Grove City winner plays 13th-seeded New Albany or 31st-seeded Thomas Worthington in a second-round game at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the home of the higher seed. Top-seeded Reynoldsburg likely will be the opponent if the Patriots reach a district semifinal Feb. 28 at Bloom-Carroll.
"I have a great deal of respect for (Grove City coach) Dale Corbett," coach Ron Florey said. "He does a great job at Grove City. They're a big team with a 6-4 post player and they look like they try to play up-tempo. They like to press you and speed you up.
"If we can play well and get to the district semifinal, we'd go against Reynoldsburg. It would be an opportunity to see what it's like to play (a state-ranked team). Until you play against a team like that, you don't know what kind of talent they really have."
Against Coffman, senior forward Kennedy Wilke had 16 points and sophomore post player Kristen Levering scored nine. Liberty closed the first half on a 21-6 run after trailing 10-2 in the first quarter.
The loss dropped Coffman to 11-2 in the league before closing its OCC-Central schedule Feb. 12 against Westland. Hilliard Davidson finished 12-2 in the league, meaning the best the Shamrocks could hope for was a share of the title.
"We just need somebody to step up and make plays at the end of a game," Florey said. "We were four of 15 from 3-point range with 20 turnovers (in a 43-39 loss to Davidson on Feb. 5), and that's just not good enough. I remind this team every day that we have to take care of the basketball."
Olentangy set to open tourney against Darby
Olentangy is the seventh seed in the Division I district tournament and faces 34th-seeded Hilliard Darby in the first round at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at home.
The winner plays 21st-seeded Mount Vernon or 25th-seeded Westerville Central in a second-round game Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the home of the higher seed.
Sixth-seeded Westerville North and ninth-seeded Pickerington North are among the potential opponents if Olentangy reaches a district semifinal Feb. 28 at Jonathan Alder.
The Braves were 17-4 overall and had won four in a row before playing Newark on Feb. 12.
In a 61-38 win over Mount Vernon on Feb. 8, senior forward Megan Beidelman had 19 points and freshman guard Kelly Meade scored 12.
Meade scored 30 points in an 88-35 win over Franklin Heights on Jan. 29 and averaged 15.5 points during the winning streak.