Riders Ready For Rematch

By: 
JAKE DOWLING
Sports Editor

There was once a time where the Wapakoneta Redskins girls basketball program was not where it has been as of recently.

The Redskins were a program that had not won a sectional title in awhile, but once they broke through, it began somewhat of a dynasty — a 69-30 overall record, one of the top teams in the Western Buckeye League, barely missing out on league titles and four straight Division II district final appearances.

A once average program became a powerhouse in the WBL and in the region — St. Marys wants to be that team and what better way to be that team than to beat it.

Thursday’s Division II district semifinal at Paulding High School is more than one team — who has been on the short end of the stick when it comes to beating the other — in seeking revenge for a loss earlier in the season, it’s not a game between two teams that hate each other either, it’s a game where one team has a chance to make a difference in its program for years to come.

“I think we are an up and coming program and we are trying to establish ourselves to the top of the WBL standings and this is one of the games to get over the hump,” Roughriders coach Jon Burke said. “We want to be playing with the Baths with the O-Gs and with the Wapaks and this is a big one.”

In the midst of his first season as coach of the Riders, Burke thought his team could compete for a league title and as crazy as that sounded then, it makes sense now at the end of his second season. 

Burke said the way he sees it, St. Marys was three possessions away from a WBL title this year — a combined nine points in the team’s only league losses to Wapakoneta (Dec. 6), Ottawa-Glandorf and Bath. 

“That is how basketball is though,” Burke said. “Over half of our games came down to two possessions.”

In that December matchup, the Redskins trailed by five with roughly 40 seconds left in regulation and pulled within two with seconds left when Jessica Davis took the inbounds and drove to the basket where she pulled up and missed a contested short-range jumper, but Makenzie Wilson grabbed the errant shot and banked it in to knot the score at 43 with six seconds left to eventually force overtime.

Nineteen seconds into overtime, sophomore guard Taylor Jenkins found herself open in front of the Wapakoneta bench and let a long-range shot fly. The shot snapped the net and gave the Redskins the 46-43 lead. Wilson, who ended with a game-high 17 points and a game-high 14 rebounds, got loose near the basket and gave the Redskins a 48-43 lead en route to a 50-45 victory at Memorial High School.

Wapakoneta has won 11 straight against the Riders, including the last six postseason matchups.

After notching at least 17 wins in each season from 2014-2017, the Redskins finished 13-10 last season and lost in the first round of the postseason to Kenton and Wapakoneta is 13-10 again this year entering Thursday’s contest.

“I think they have been dealing with some injuries and Addy Allen is a freshman and just like we have gone through our growing pains, I know they have also gone through their growing pains as well,” Burke said. “If anything has been giving them fits, it has to be the ball handling coming up the floor. I know at the end of the Kalida game, that gave them some problems, Coldwater and New Knoxville also gave them some problems.”

Burke said the Redskins play good defense with their full-court, man-to-man press, especially with All-WBL Honorable Mention selection (Addy) Allen and (Audra) Schaub guarding the opposing team’s guards.

“It puts a lot of pressure on your ball handlers going up the floor,” the coach said. “They are a good fundamental team.

“I like to say that Wapak and St. Marys defensively are philosophically very similar. Both play hard man-to-man, pressure outside, take away the post and help — defensively, we are very similar teams.”

Burke believes his team’s biggest strength is its balance in scoring. 

He pointed to last season when Sydney Cisco and Makenna Mele made up 80 percent of the team’s points, with Jill Schmitmeyer — a senior last year — also racking up points as well and very little scoring left for anyone else. This year has not been the case. There are five players who average at least 4.9 points per game for St. Marys. 

“I don’t think you can take one player away from us offensively like you could last year and really hurt us,” Burke said. “If you try to take somebody away, we can find somebody else to rely on to score.”

Burke also pointed to the team’s defensive intensity as another strength. Burke said only Delphos St. John’s was a team that scored more than 50 points on St. Marys — it took Wapakoneta overtime to reach 50 points in its win over St. Marys. In the last five games, the Riders have limited teams to under 36 points a game.

Burke said Wapakoneta’s defense is going to give his team problems. He pointed that Wapakoneta makes it is hard to get the ball inside the post, but if you want to become that team and ascend to the next level, you’ll find a way to overcome that obstacle.

“It is going to be a fundamental game and a close game all night,” he said. “It is going to be a matter of who is to come out and make shots, who is going to get the rebounds and the loose balls. 

“It is going to be a hard-fought game.

“We want this game really bad as a program. I know our juniors and our seniors are looking forward to that opportunity to establish a new expectation and a new norm for our program.

“We know that this is one of those programs we want to compete with and beat on a more consistent basis.”