Westerville North looks to build on season
Coach Jim Kloepfer and his Westerville North High School girls basketball team wanted more, but he believes this season only scratched the surface of the Warriors' potential.
Sixth-seeded North finished 22-2 after losing at home to ninth-seeded Pickerington North 50-42 on Feb. 20 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
The Warriors won their first league title since the 2004-05 season by going 14-0 in the OCC-Cardinal Division. Dublin Jerome and Dublin Scioto tied for second (9-5), followed by Hilliard Bradley (8-6), Westerville Central (7-7), Westerville South (5-9), Hilliard Darby (4-10) and Worthington Kilbourne (0-14).
"We have a lot to build on and we want to be better," said Kloepfer, who concluded his 10th season. "We want to come back and do more than we did this year."
North's only stumbling blocks this season came from Pickerington. The Warriors' only regular-season loss was against Pickerington Central, 52-47 on Dec. 11.
In the season finale, the Panthers jumped out to a 13-4 lead and the Warriors never came closer than three points. Sophomore guard Anna Gibbs hit a 3-pointer and junior guard/forward Kelsey Walker hit a short jumper with 3 minutes, 54 seconds to play to cut the deficit to 38-35.
The Warriors' defense then clamped down, but Pickerington North senior guard Christy Macioce made a rushed 3-point attempt to begin a six-point run for a nine-point lead with 2:04 to play.
"We had gained all of the momentum and (Macioce) knocks down that 3 and they take it back just like that," said Kloepfer, whose team defeated 36th-seeded Kilbourne 58-33 in the first round. "We just didn't knock down shots when we needed to."
The Warriors had only three seniors in guards Breyonia Hearn, Jasmine Johnson and Gabrielle Pace. Hearn, a four-year starter, averaged 5.6 points, 2.9 assists and 2.8 steals. Pace averaged 7.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists. Johnson added 1.7 points per game.
"Breyonia had been playing point guard on varsity since her freshman year," Kloepfer said. "She is the ultimate team player and will do anything to help the team, just like our other two seniors.
"Gabby really came up big for us and Jasmine worked hard to make us all better. They all worked hard in practice and made us better, and we will miss their leadership."
Expected to lead the returnees is Symone Simmons, who was the OCC-Cardinal Player of the Year. The sophomore guard/forward led the team in scoring (15.5 points per game), rebounding (8.0 per game), blocks (2.0 per game) and steals (3.0 per game).
Sophomore guard/forward Devin Jackson led in assists (4.1 per game) while also averaging 8.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.7 steals. Walker averaged 8.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 assists and was the team's top 3-point shooter, making 42 of 112 (37.5 percent).
Guard Hannah Ferguson averaged 5.1 points, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals. Gibbs averaged 3.0 points, 1.5 assists and 1.5 steals.
Also expected back are juniors Alley Speed (guard) and Tierra Streater (post player), sophomores Domanique Brown (guard) and Nikki Post (guard) and freshmen Megan Bellner (guard), Kristen Everhart (post player) and Ronni Royer (guard).
"We have to work hard to get better for next season," Kloepfer said. "These kids are driven to get better and they want to go further (in the postseason) next year."
Wildcats grew during season
South finished 7-16 overall after losing at 23rd-seeded Upper Arlington 53-45 on Feb. 20 in the second round of the Division I district tournament. The 29th-seeded Wildcats had a first-round bye.
"The team has grown trem-endously," said coach Silas Williams, who completed his third season. "We only had one returning starter back from last year, so we had to figure things out. We really started to gain experience as the season (progressed)."
The Wildcats lose four seniors in Chyna Porter (guard), Ophelia Roberts (post player), Anna Robinson (post player) and Brianna Wendell (post player).
"Those seniors worked so hard and brought the toughness and intensity to each practice and game, which will be tough to replace," Williams said. "They were the glue. The passion in which they played with down the stretch was incredible. They really set the tone on how hard we played, the intensity we played with, and they never, ever quit."
Sophomore post player Chenelle Moore led the Wildcats against UA with 20 points and finished the season averaging 10.0 points and 9.0 rebounds. Junior guard Jada Smoot averaged 8.0 points and 3.0 assists, and freshman post player Kaylah Ivey averaged 5.5 points in South's final eight games.
Also expected to return are juniors Cara Calland (post player), Mikaela Crouch (guard), Logan Holman (guard), Nicole Mantle (guard), Cheyenne Raker (post player) and Tara Thompson (guard) and sophomores Paichence Carter (guard) and Audrey Sylvester (post player).
"We have to keep it simple and we have to continue to work on our skills," Williams said. "Ball-handling, shooting and basketball IQ all need to be getting stronger. That is all about repetition."