As most high schools do, Westerville North has the conference championship banners of its athletic teams tacked to a wall in the gymnasium. Kelsey Walker, a junior guard on the girls basketball team, glanced at the wall and smiled.
As most high schools do, Westerville North has the conference championship banners of its athletic teams tacked to a wall in the gymnasium.
Kelsey Walker, a junior guard on the girls basketball team, glanced at the wall and smiled.
“You always look at that wall and imagine your name being up there some day," she said.
That day has arrived.
The Warriors won their first Ohio Capital Conference Cardinal Division championship since 2005 and fifth overall with a resounding 50-27 victory over Dublin Jerome last night.
Guard-forward Symone Simmons had 20 points, Walker 12 and Devin Jackson eight.
Coach Jim Klopefer thought the team had a chance to contend, but in all probability figured that would happen in 2013-14, when eight underclassmen got some seasoning.
Now, Westerville North (17-1, 11-0) has a serious chance to win 20 games before the tournament opener.
“They don't think they're very good," Kloepfer said, smiling. “This is the closest team I've had, and that's why they've been able to win. It's a special group. They sleep over one another's homes. They're always together. That is paying off now."
What smarts, though, is the Warriors generally are a rumor in high-school basketball circles. They opened the season with a 20-point victory over Tecumseh - a team that is 18-1 - but are playing in a conference that is perceived as weak.
When the Division I tournament brackets are drawn on Sunday, it's a good bet that Westerville North will be seeded as low as eighth or ninth.
“But we'll keep taking them one game at a time," Kloepfer said. “As long as we keep taking care of business, we'll start getting respect."
There are only three seniors on the roster, with Breyonia Hearn and Gabrielle Pace starting. The other starters are Walker and sophomores Jackson and Simmons.
The tallest players in the rotation are Jackson and Simmons at 5 feet 9, and Jackson probably is closer to being 5-8.
The way Westerville North players see it, they might be short but few teams are as quick. Last night, they forced 19 turnovers. Simmons had two blocked shots and Hearn one.
Jackson is a rarity in that she can muscle for rebounds and play tough defense underneath the basket, but also can lead the fast break with the dribble and pass like a point guard.
Simmons can do it all.
“I think we have a lot of energy going for us," Simmons said. “We run them down a lot. I don't think we get much attention, but we'll get that respect."
Jackson has returned after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in the off-season. Kloepfer said she isn't 100 percent. Jackson said the players don't think about their lack of height.
“We just know things have to get done," she said. “I know I play for my teammates. We're like a family. We're all in this together."
It looked as if the Warriors would have a short night after taking a 19-7 lead on a layup by Simmons off a nice pass from Hannah Ferguson with 3:22 left in the second quarter.
Jerome kept coming back, however. Hannah Gibbs cut the lead to 22-16 with 5:22 left in the third quarter on a follow-up and Madison Costner got the Celtics within 23-19 with a 12-foot jump shot with 3:41 left.
But Westerville North went on a 14-1 to lead 37-20 going into the fourth quarter. Jackson started the run with a layup and Simmons ended it with the consecutive three-pointers.
One fan in particular was impressed.
“My older sister, Kathy Wisner, said, 'I used to think girls basketball was boring, but not after tonight," Kloepfer said. “We've had some good teams, but we haven't had a team like this. This team always makes that extra pass."
Pace had a satisfied look on her face as teammates hooked up with parents and friends. This season was her last shot at a conference championship.
“We had a winning season last year and we got to know what each other could do," Pace said. “ We felt we had a chance for a conference championship. I think we know how to handle things better this year. We take it one game at a time. We take it slow. There is a lot of positive energy on this team. We don't think about the negative things."
Hearn said the players won't care too much about how low the team is seeded.
“We just play hard and we know the energy will come," she said. “We just keep playing. We're having a lot of fun."