Katie Heath of the Olentangy High School girls basketball team estimates that she is about 90 percent recovered from knee and ankle injuries that forced her to miss eight games during the regular season.
The senior forward is one of several players who missed games because of injuries but have returned to help the seventh-seeded Braves contend for a Division I district championship.
Olentangy, which has been a district runner-up each of the last three seasons, will face ninth-seeded Pickerington North in a district semifinal at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at Jonathan Alder.
The teams did not meet in the regular season.
"Our last game was only our second game where we had all of our players playing at the same time," Heath said. "We scrimmage Pickerington North a lot during the summer, although people are in and out during the summer. We know they're good."
Senior guard/forward Brooke Zwayer missed the first eight games of the season while recovering from a knee injury. Senior post player Lydia Hyburg and sophomore guard Morgan Horvath also missed time with injuries.
Now healthy, Olentangy rolled through the first two rounds of the district tournament, beating 34th-seeded Hilliard Darby 67-19 on Feb. 16 at home and 21st-seeded Mount Vernon 80-35 on Feb. 20 at home to improve to 20-4.
Pickerington North has won its last four games, including a 50-42 victory over sixth-seeded Westerville North in the second round Feb. 20 to improve to 16-8. The Panthers defeated second-seeded Gahanna 51-46 in their regular-season finale Feb. 8.
The semifinal winner plays Gahanna or 12th-seeded Dublin Scioto in a district final at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at Jonathan Alder. The district champion will face Olentangy Orange, Dublin Coffman, Northland or Zanesville in a regional semifinal at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at Otterbein University. The regional final is set for 7:15 p.m. March 8 at Otterbein.
While Olentangy lost to Reynoldsburg 56-31 in a district final last season after losing back-to-back Division II district finals in 2010 and 2011, Pickerington North had a string of eight consecutive district championships snapped when it lost to Gahanna 63-46 in a final a year ago.
Panthers coach Dave Butcher, who coached Pickerington to 15 consecutive district titles before leading North to titles in each of its first eight seasons, became Ohio's all-time winningest coach when his team beat Marion-Franklin 83-18 in a first-round game Feb. 14. He is 685-87 in 30 seasons.
The Panthers are led by senior forward Christy Macioce, a Dayton signee who is averaging 14 points and nine rebounds, and junior forward Brittany Johnson, who is averaging 11 points and eight rebounds. Junior post player Morgan Bassett-Smith and sophomore guard Emily Thomas are other key players.
"They're all starting to get back to how we can play, and we're going to need that," coach John Feasel said. "I voted Pickerington North (third in the seeding meeting). They may be one of the best (No. 9) seeds in the history of the bracket."
Olentangy has not played Gahanna, Scioto, Coffman or Zanesville this season. It beat Northland 58-46 on Dec. 28 but was swept by Orange in OCC-Capital Division play, losing 57-52 on Dec. 15 and 64-60 on Jan. 26.
Pioneers set to play Zanesville in semifinal
Third-seeded Orange improved to 21-2 and cruised into a Division I district semifinal with a 76-39 win over 39th-seeded Chillicothe on Feb. 20 at home.
The Pioneers play 11th-seeded Zanesville at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at Hilliard Davidson, with the winner facing fourth-seeded Coffman or fifth-seeded Northland in a district final at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at Davidson. The district champion will play Gahanna, Olentangy, Pickerington North or Scioto in a regional semifinal at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at Otterbein.
Northland won a district title last season and Coffman won its only district titles in 2008 and 2009 under current-Orange coach Mary Ann Grimes. The Pioneers, who lost to Northland 51-50 in a district final last season, and Zanesville are looking for their first district championship.
Zanesville improved to 20-4 with a 51-40 win over Teays Valley in a second-round game Feb. 20. Senior guard Kenzie Howe made four 3-pointers and finished with 26 points to lead the Blue Devils, who forced 15 first-half turnovers and outscored the Vikings 21-13 in the fourth quarter. Junior guard Alexus Grimmett added 13 points despite enduring an ankle injury in the first half.
"I know (Zanesville will) be a disciplined team," Grimes said.
Against Chillicothe, senior guard Taylor Agler and senior forward Mya Walker each had 18 points and junior post player Sarah Sagerer scored 16 to lead the Pioneers, who led 38-18 at halftime and outscored the Cavaliers 22-5 in the third quarter.
Orange has not played Zanesville, Coffman, Gahanna, Pickerington North or Scioto this season. It lost to Northland 69-59 on Dec. 10 but swept Olentangy in league play.
Patriots facing top seed in district semi
Liberty defeated 13th-seeded and host New Albany 31-30 in the second round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 20, tying a program record with its 15th victory and advancing to a district semifinal for the second time.
The 17th-seeded Patriots, who improved to 15-8, face top-seeded Reynoldsburg in a semifinal at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at Bloom-Carroll. The winner will play 14th-seeded Newark or 23rd-seeded Upper Arlington in a district final at noon Saturday, March 2, at Bloom-Carroll.
The district champion will play North Canton Hoover, Canton McKinley, Uniontown Lake or Wooster in a regional semifinal at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at Otterbein.
Liberty did not play Reynoldsburg during the regular season. The Raiders, who were ranked fifth in the final state poll, are 22-2 and are looking for their fourth consecutive district championship.
"Obviously, bringing our 'A' game (might not be) enough against Reynoldsburg, but we want to use this as a yardstick to see how far we've come," coach Ron Florey said. "We're very excited to have an opportunity to play them."
Against New Albany, freshman guard Alexa Fisher made a 3-pointer with 54.1 seconds left and scored a basket with 15.1 seconds left to cut the Patriots' deficit to 30-29. She then made a pair of free throws with 8.6 seconds remaining for the winning points and blocked a shot by Eagles senior guard Chrissy Harris during the waning seconds to seal the win.
Fisher and senior forward Kennedy Wilke each had seven points.
The only other time Liberty has made it to a district semifinal was during its inaugural season in 2003-04, when it competed in Division II.
"It's really exciting," Fisher said. "We did this for the seniors because the seniors have never (gotten to a district semifinal before). We're happy to pull through and be able to play Reynoldsburg."
Liberty has not played Newark this season, but it split its OCC-Central games against UA, losing 47-32 on Dec. 14 and winning 44-30 on Feb. 2.