The Upper Arlington High School girls basketball team split its two OCC-Central Division contests against Dublin Coffman during the regular season, but the game the Golden Bears won did not feature Shamrocks standout Sade Olatoye.
Olatoye, a junior forward, more than made her mark in the rubber match, racking up 22 points, 24 rebounds, three blocks and two steals to lead the Shamrocks to a 55-40 win in a Division I regional semifinal March 4 at Otterbein University.
Olatoye helped Coffman seize control in the third quarter, scoring eight of her team's 10 points in a span of 3 minutes, 14 seconds to push a 27-23 halftime lead to a 40-32 advantage. Coffman made 10 of 12 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter to seal the win and thwart UA's quest to return to the state tournament for the first time since 1988.
The Bears, who had secured their first district championship since 1989 in their previous game, lost to Coffman 42-32 on Nov. 29 but defeated the Shamrocks 53-40 on Jan. 10. Olatoye missed the second matchup, as she was sidelined from mid-December to mid-January with a bruised meniscus and hairline fracture in her left knee.
"We fought hard, but (Olatoye) was too tough to stop at times," said coach Chris Savage, whose team finished 24-2 overall. "When the game is called a certain way, we're not going to be able to defend people. We played hard. We gave our best effort and best judgment and did a good job for the most part. We left some shooters open and didn't always defend the post properly. For the most part, we did what we wanted to do, but we couldn't hit shots. They outplayed us."
UA held Coffman to 17-for-55 from the field (31 percent) but hit only 17 of its 60 shots (28.3 percent). The Bears' last lead was 19-18 midway through the second quarter, and they would get no closer than two points early in the third quarter.
Senior forward Andi Norman had 13 points and 10 rebounds to pace UA.
"They have probably seen us more than anyone in central Ohio over the past couple of years," Coffman coach Bryan Patton said. "We did a good job of getting in position to defend them and take away their strengths."
UA reeled off 13 consecutive OCC-Central wins after losing to Coffman in its league opener to capture its first league title since 2011. The Bears went 13-1 in the OCC-Central to finish ahead of Coffman (12-2), Olentangy Liberty (10-4), Westland (8-6), Marysville (6-8), Thomas Worthington (5-9), Central Crossing (1-13) and Hilliard Davidson (1-13).
Seeded second of 47 teams in the district tournament, UA played host to OCC-Central foes in the first two rounds, defeating 38th-seeded Central Crossing 49-27 in the first round Feb. 17 and 36th-seeded Thomas 49-35 on Feb. 20. The Bears then beat 16th-seeded Watterson 45-31 in a district semifinal Feb. 27 at Westerville Central before defeating third-seeded Newark 50-38 in a district final March 1.
Norman, who has committed to Dartmouth College, averaged 13.7 points, seven rebounds and four assists this season and received first-team all-district and all-league honors. Senior guard Annika Wachtman averaged 9.2 points, four assists and three steals and was named first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, and 6-3 sophomore forward Kortney Eisenman averaged 10.3 points and eight rebounds and made second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Senior guard Kyle Croxton averaged seven points and was special mention all-league, junior guard Taylor McGlade was honorable mention all-league and Savage was voted OCC-Capital Coach of the Year.
"I told our girls in the locker room how proud I was of them," Savage said. "24-2 is by no means anything to be upset about. We didn't go as far as we wanted, but we took the program as far as it's been in 25 years. It really is an exciting time in the program and we have some key pieces coming back."
UA is losing five seniors, including backup guard Kellye McGlumphy and 6-0 forward Chiara Paradiso, who aggravated a knee injury in late December and missed the remainder of the season.
In addition to Eisenman and McGlade, expected to return are juniors Nikki Blevins (forward), Abigail Crum (6-1, forward), Caroline Mead (guard), Megan Sengelmann (guard) and Alyssa Tedesco (guard), sophomore Elli Wachtman (forward) and freshman Giavanna Paradiso (forward).
Eisenman hopes this season proves to be a turning point for the program.
"It could be," she said. "I just think something like this, having the season we've had and winning our first district championship in 25 years, will motivate younger kids to work, want to be better and be district champions, too. It could start a chain reaction."