Despite losing three Division I recruits to graduation, the Reynoldsburg High School girls basketball team made it a step further in the postseason than it did a year ago.
It was a testament to the program's depth, according to senior post player Alyssa Rice.
While Rice and senior wing player Nicole Orr were expected to lead the team, senior forward Shanice Johnson and senior point guard De'Shay Thomas also became key players.
"I was very happy with how our team stepped up to the plate this year," said Rice, a University of Kentucky signee who was Division I district Player of the Year. "Losing the talent that we did and still being able to get to the regional final, we take nothing for granted. I'm still proud of our season."
Led by Rice, who averaged 17.3 points and nine rebounds and scored more than 1,400 career points, the Raiders finished 23-5 overall and were regional runners-up.
After falling to North Canton Hoover 51-48 in a regional semifinal last season, they lost to Dublin Coffman 39-26 in a regional final March 7 at Otterbein.
Rice battled foul trouble and was limited to nine points and six rebounds against Coffman, while Orr scored seven.
Reynoldsburg led 23-21 midway through the third quarter before the Shamrocks went on a 12-0 run to seize control. The Raiders shot just 2-for-25 from 3-point range.
A year ago, Rice and Orr were joined as key players by 2013 graduates Destini Cooper and Yamonie Jenkins, who each signed with Ohio University, and Shiloh Murphy, who signed with Morehead State.
"We didn't play well (against Coffman), but they played hard," coach Jack Purtell said. "With us losing three Division I kids and still winning 23 games, the kids have nothing to be ashamed of."
The Raiders had a 54-game winning streak in the OCC-Ohio Division snapped with a 61-57 overtime loss to Pickerington Central on Jan. 24, and they also lost a league game to Gahanna 35-24 on Jan. 28.
Reynoldsburg then won its final three in league play, including 43-36 over Newark on Feb. 7, to earn the outright league title for the fourth consecutive season. Newark and Gahanna tied for second (10-4), followed by Pickerington Central (9-5), Pickerington North (8-6), Grove City (4-10), Lancaster (3-11) and Groveport (0-14).
In the district tournament, the top-seeded Raiders beat 47th-seeded Groveport (93-13 on Feb. 17 at home), 45th-seeded Columbus West (98-5 on Feb. 20 at home) and 19th-seeded Westland (46-25 on Feb. 27 at Bloom-Carroll) to advance to a district final March 1 at Ohio Dominican against Hilliard Bradley.
Against the 12th-seeded Jaguars, Thomas made a running jump shot as time expired to give her team a 46-44 win.
Reynoldsburg beat Northland 60-32 in a regional semifinal March 4 at Otterbein as Rice had 25 points and 12 rebounds.
Rice and Orr, a Butler signee who surpassed 1,000 career points, both were first-team all-league. Orr averaged 11.5 points and also made third-team all-district.
Thomas averaged 6.8 points and made second-team all-league, and junior wing player Courtney Purtell averaged 4.3 points and was honorable mention all-league. Johnson averaged 4.9 points.
Also eligible to return are juniors Chandlar Hines (guard/wing player), Hannah Leppla (guard, 3.9 ppg), Jaime Montague (guard), Jayla Turman (guard/forward) and Leah Wallace (wing player) and freshman Molly Van Horn (guard).
Rounding out the senior class was guard Allison King.
"We've got a lot of work to do," coach Purtell said.
"We've got some young kids coming. This senior class has meant the world to us and I wish them all the luck in the world."