With a 45-29 win Jan. 3 at Franklin Heights, the Olentangy Orange High School girls basketball team enjoyed its first victory since beating North Canton Hoover 61-55 in a Division I regional final last March.
The Pioneers then fell to Twinsburg 73-63 in a state semifinal and lost their first seven games this season.
"It felt amazing," senior guard Emilia Martin said. "We've been waiting for a while for this (win)."
Still, according to first-year coach Kelly Joseph, the win was more a part of the process as opposed to a "big relief."
The Pioneers, who were 1-7 overall and 1-5 in the OCC-Capital Division before playing Big Walnut on Jan. 8, led Franklin Heights 11-8 after one quarter and took control with an 11-0 run to begin the second period.
Junior Lexi Werling led with 15 points and Martin had 10 points.
Orange opened the league schedule Nov. 25 with a 27-20 overtime loss to Worthington Kilbourne, which will visit the Pioneers on Thursday, Jan. 9.
"Our defense was pretty tough in the first half (against Franklin Heights)," Joseph said. "It's always been a big emphasis and it always will be. We are running our offense a little better. When we take our time, we get shots at the free-throw line. The only disappointing thing is that we're missing shots around the basket.
"They've worked so hard in practice and we've been trying to do every little thing better every day. It's a nice feeling when the effort shows up in the results. There's not a day that I've not been looking forward to practice. It's probably been about the most enjoyable 0-7 start you could have because they've worked so hard. We're not basing our improvement on wins and losses, although I hate to lose."
Martin saw limited playing time a year ago when the Pioneers were led by six players no longer in the program.
"It's definitely different being the only senior, but I've had a leadership role on (junior varsity)," said Martin, who is serving as a captain with juniors Bri Barron, Mikaela Lyons and Lexi Werling. "All of the girls ask me for advice, but it doesn't really feel different that I'm the only senior.
"We started off the season rough, but we just keep improving. Our only downfall is scoring. Once we get going offensively, we'll be a force to be reckoned with."
Olentangy hopes trip will provide benefits
Despite losing two of its three games in a KSA Events Holiday Tournament held Dec. 27-30 in Orlando, Fla., Olentangy coach John Feasel wasn't disappointed in the way his team played.
He also believes the fun the Braves had on the trip combined with the competition they faced will bring long-term benefits.
"We've got a big two weeks," Feasel said. "This is the reason we play all of the big non-league games that we do."
One of the key games was a scheduled matchup Jan. 7 at Mount Vernon, which is 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the OCC-Capital. However, that game was postponed to Feb. 10. The teams now won't meet until Feb. 7 at Olentangy.
Olentangy is 7-4 overall after beating Hilliard Bradley 63-41 on Jan. 4 and 5-0 in the league.
The Braves beat Mercer Island (Wash.) 60-50 on Dec. 27 in the first round of their tournament in Florida before losing to Canton (N.C.) Pisgah 65-56 on Dec. 28 and Pittsburgh Fox Chapel 53-34 on Dec. 30.
Fox Chapel senior Erin Mathias, a 6-foot-3 post player who has signed with Duke, had 16 points and 15 blocked shots.
Junior guard Morgan Horvath had 25 points against Pisgah, which outscored the Braves 24-15 in the fourth.
Horvath also led Olentangy with 22 points against Mercer Island and with 16 against Fox Chapel.
The Braves resumed OCC-Capital play Jan. 3 by beating Kilbourne 57-41 as sophomore wing player Kelly Meade scored 11 of her team-best 19 points in the fourth quarter.
Junior post player Rachel Womeldorf had 16 points and Horvath added 13 against the Wolves, whom Olentangy outscored 17-8 in the final period.
"I thought we played pretty well in two of our three games (in the KSA tournament), but we've just got to get more scoring," Feasel said. "Morgan had 25, 22 and 16 (points), and I'm coming to expect that of her. Kelly Meade has been getting a little better offensively. (Senior post player Haley) Ballmer has started to get a little more confident on offense."
Liberty prepping for Cardinals
After playing OCC-Central contender Dublin Coffman on Jan. 7, Liberty begins the second round of league play Friday, Jan. 10, at Thomas Worthington.
On Nov. 29, the Patriots outscored the Cardinals 36-21 in the second half and won 55-39 to open league play.
Liberty was 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the OCC-Central before playing Coffman, which entered that matchup 5-0 in the league. Westland and Upper Arlington both were 5-1 in the league before the teams met Jan. 7.
The Patriots' league losses before playing Coffman were against UA (34-25 on Dec. 13) and Westland (48-36 on Dec. 20).
Liberty began the 2014 portion of its schedule by beating Hilliard Davidson 51-46 in a league game Jan. 3. The Patriots outscored the Wildcats 20-5 in the first quarter and led 37-27 entering the fourth.
Senior guard Alexa Fisher had 16 points and five steals, junior post player Kristen Levering had 14 points and nine rebounds and sophomore forward Lauren Hofer added 13 points and seven rebounds.
In the first matchup against Thomas, Levering and Fisher each scored 10 points and senior forward Melissa Veerman added nine.
The Cardinals were 1-5 in the league before playing Davidson on Jan. 7.