Olentangy Orange High School girls basketball coach Mary Ann Grimes said being ranked ninth in last week's Division I state poll was a double-edged sword.

Olentangy Orange High School girls basketball coach Mary Ann Grimes said being ranked ninth in last week's Division I state poll was a double-edged sword.

The ranking, while confirmation of the team's hard work, puts a target on the Pioneers in the eyes of their opponents.

"We just put the big bull's-eye up (on ourselves)," said Grimes, whose team defeated Mount Vernon 67-38 on Jan. 20 to improve to 14-1 overall and 9-0 in the OCC-Capital Division before playing Big Walnut on Jan. 24. "I try to get the girls to understand this is an accomplishment. You've earned it and you've worked hard for it, but it doesn't mean other teams are going to lie down and let you run over them. In fact, it's just the opposite. Every team now is going to give you their best shot."

State rankings are nothing new for teams coached by Grimes. During her 12-year stint at Dublin Coffman, the Shamrocks finished first in the final Division I state regular-season poll in 2008 and second in 2009.

"As a player and as a coach, you can't allow any sort of slippage," Grimes said. "I encourage them not to listen to anything on the outside but just worry about what's going on between the black lines."

Junior point guard Taylor Agler believes the ranking was overdue. The Pioneers went 21-3 last season and 17-5 in 2009-10 but never received state recognition.

"Last year we were kind of a new team and they weren't going to put us up there right away because they thought maybe it was just a fluke," said Agler, who scored a team-high 17 points against Mount Vernon. "This year shows that we deserve to be there. We're beating the right teams."

The "right teams" include an 82-65 win over Africentric in the Nov. 25 opener and a 50-49 win over Northland on Dec. 12. Northland, which was a Division I regional semifinalist last year, and Africentric, which was a Division III regional finalist, were a combined 24-4 before Jan. 24.

Agler said knowing they were going to be tested early in the season forced the Pioneers to ratchet up their preseason workouts.

"We made our practices as hard as we could make them," said Agler, who averaged 16.3 points and 6.4 assists through 15 games. "We put Africentric and Northland on the schedule so we would be ready for the postseason tournament."

One of the things on which the Pioneers focused was their perimeter shooting. Orange made 24 3-pointers in the first four games in January, including nine against Mount Vernon. Through 14 games, Agler (24-for-57, 42.1 percent) and junior Maddy Joseph (22-for-55, 40 percent) were shooting over 39 percent.

"As a team, we're playing so much more wide open," Grimes said. "We're living and dying by the 3 a little bit more.

"One of the reasons Taylor has been successful is her teammates are doing an incredible job of getting themselves open. If Taylor is getting attacked while going to the rim, she's able to kick it out to them."

•LEAGUE RACES - On Jan. 20, Olentangy and Orange both took steps toward winning league titles.

Olentangy used a strong fourth quarter to defeat host Dublin Scioto 58-43. The Braves outscored the Irish 21-12 in the final eight minutes to avenge a 62-61 loss on Dec. 6.

"This was our biggest win of the season," said Brooke Zwayer, who made three 3-pointers and scored 17 points. "Losing by one earlier in the season made us pretty upset, so we played this game with a chip on our shoulder and got the win."

The victory gave the Braves (8-1) a one-game lead over the Irish (7-2) in the OCC-Cardinal before the games on Jan. 24. Westerville South (7-2), Dublin Jerome (5-4), Westerville North (4-5), Olentangy Liberty (4-5), Marysville (1-8) and Westerville Central (0-9) rounded out the standings.

The Pioneers (9-0) led New Albany (8-1), Hilliard Bradley (6-3), Big Walnut (5-4), Delaware (4-5), Watkins Memorial (3-6), Mount Vernon (1-8) and Franklin Heights (0-9) before the games on Jan. 24.