Coach Jim Kloepfer was disappointed after his Westerville North High School girls basketball team lost to 14th-seeded Pickerington North 50-47 in a Division I district semifinal Feb. 27 at Jonathan Alder.
However, he believes the best may be yet to come for the Warriors.
North finished 19-6 overall and won its second consecutive OCC-Cardinal Division title with a junior-laden team that had only two seniors. Junior guard/forward Symone Simmons was the league's Player of the Year and Kloepfer was the league's Coach of the Year.
The Warriors also had two starters miss significant time with injuries. Senior guard Kelsey Walker missed the first 10 games with a knee injury and junior forward Devin Jackson was out until mid-January with ankle problems.
"I'm really proud of the girls after going through the kind of adversity that they faced and still finish 19-6 and go 13-1 in the league," said Kloepfer, who completed his 11th season. "I'm as proud of this group as any team I have coached."
The seventh-seeded Warriors were tied with Pickerington North at 29 with 1 minute, 14 seconds left in the third quarter, but the Panthers hit back-to-back 3-pointers and finished the third on a 7-0 run to take a 36-29 lead.
Jackson hit a basket in the paint with 6:39 left to cut the deficit to 36-35, but the Warriors could not regain the lead. Walker scored a team-high 18 points and made four 3-pointers.
"There were a lot of close calls, but the girls played hard," Kloepfer said. "Even when they fell behind, they kept battling back and I'm proud of the way they played."
The Warriors defeated 30th-seeded Dublin Jerome 58-47 in the first round Feb. 17 and 35th-seeded Independence 67-23 in the second round Feb. 20, both at home.
North went 13-1 in the OCC-Cardinal to finish ahead of Hilliard Bradley (11-3), Westerville South (9-5), Westerville Central (8-6), Jerome (8-6), Canal Winchester (5-9), Dublin Scioto (2-12) and Hilliard Darby (0-14).
Simmons averaged 16.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 2.5 steals. She was named first-team all-district.
Junior guards Hannah Ferguson (9.0 points, 3.3 assists, 2.0 steals) and Anna Gibbs (8.9 points, 2.1 assists, 1.6 steals) were second-team all-league, and Walker (8.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists) was honorable mention all-league.
Forward Tierra Streater (3.8 points, 3.1 rebounds) was the other senior for the Warriors.
Jackson averaged 4.1 points and 3.1 rebounds, and sophomore guard Ronni Royer averaged 4.7 points.
"We have a lot of talent coming back and I think we'll be much better next season," Kloepfer said.
Wildcats to return top scorer, rebounder
South finished 14-9 overall after losing to 12th-seeded Bradley 52-48 on Feb. 20 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
The 17th-seeded Wildcats, who had a first-round bye, expect to return their top player in junior guard/post player Chanelle Moore. She averaged 18.2 points, 10 rebounds, 3.9 steals and 1.7 blocks and was named second-team all-district and first-team all-league.
Sophomore guard Camille McLellan (11.9 points, 3.3 assists, 3.2 steals) was honorable mention all-district.
Senior guard Jada Smoot (8.0 points, 4.0 assists) was second-team all-league and senior guard/post player Cheyenne Raker (8.4 points, 5.7 rebounds) was special mention all-league. Junior post player Audrey Sylvester (3.0 points, 4.7 rebounds) was honorable mention all-league.
Raker and Smoot were the team's only seniors.
"Our seniors mean a lot to our program," said coach Silas Williams, who completed his fifth season. "Their leadership has been a huge part of our success this year, on and off the floor. They are the backbone to the program.
"We have a very good core group of girls coming back. We had seven ladies who hadn't played varsity last year. So those seven girls gained a lot of experience and will be key performers next year."
Central grows during season
Central finished 10-13 overall after losing to 11th-seeded Gahanna 61-48 on Feb. 19 in the second round of the Division I district tournament. The 25th-seeded Warhawks had a first-round bye.
The Warhawks had to adjust after the loss of sophomore post player Emma Stille, who suffered a knee injury in a 40-32 loss to Westerville North on Dec. 20. Stille averaged 10.3 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
Sophomore Morghan Hyatt stepped in and averaged 7.9 points and 6.3 rebounds. She was special mention all-league.
"When Emma went down, that gave Morghan a chance to get more time and experience," said coach Jamiya Pride, who completed his third season. "She's a physical player who played well for us and, without the injury to Emma, we would not have fully tapped into that."
Junior guard Andrea Hodge (honorable mention all-district, first-team all-league) averaged team highs of 13.3 points and 2.6 steals to go with 6.8 rebounds. Senior guard Halle Kramer (second-team all-league) averaged 8.9 points and junior guard Imani Steele (honorable mention all-league) averaged 4.9 points and 3.2 rebounds.
Post player Arie Williams (5.0 points, 3.5 rebounds) was South's other senior.
"Arie brought a lot of energy and effort in practice and with her off-the-court leadership," Pride said. "We will miss Halle's 3-point shooting tremendously. She finally found her confidence this season and she improved by leaps and bounds."