Rayen topples Salem for title
The Tigers advance to the Division II regional after stopping the Quakers, 51-33.
AUSTINTOWN -- Having duped Rayen School senior Taniesha Holland into rushing her shot at the end of the first quarter of Saturday's Division II district final, the Salem fans thought they'd try it again just before halftime.
Unfortunately for them, it worked.
With six seconds remaining, the crowd began chanting "Three! Two! One!" Holland, hearing the chants, took a pass from freshman teammate Brittany Taylor, stepped a foot behind the 3-point line and launched the shot.
Meanwhile, Rayen coach Holly Seimetz was screaming, "No! No! No!"
The shot swished.
"Yes! Yes! Yes!" Seimetz said.
Just like that, a seven point lead became 10. The Tigers had the momentum. And Seimetz knew something good was happening.
"That was something," she said after the game. "Sometimes things just work out."
Has best game
It may have been Holland's best play of the game, although considering how well she played, it's tough to say. Holland finished with game highs in points (22), rebounds (11), assists (6) and steals (4) as the Tigers won their first district championship, upending the two-time defending champs 51-33 at Fitch High School.
"What do you want to know?" Seimetz asked reporters after the game.
Well, how many hugs have you given?
"Too many," she said, laughing. "It's great. This is great. Unbelievable."
Satisfying, yes. Unbelievable, no. Seimetz, who has coached the Tigers for 12 seasons, has been building Rayen's program toward this moment since coming up short against Boardman in the Div. I district final in 2000. Since she's now Rayen's assistant principal, she'll likely have to quit coaching after this season.
In all likelihood, this was her last shot.
"She was pretty pumped up, but she always acts like that," Holland said. "I think she wanted this more than we did."
Seimetz had a good feeling about Rayen's chances entering the game, realizing that the banged-up Quakers had no one who could guard Holland and Taylor, and no one who could make the Tigers' defense pay for clogging the inside lanes. Seimetz assigned Holland to front Salem senior Katherine McGarry in the post, with senior center Rilonda Neal adding help underneath. The strategy was designed to force the Quakers' guards to make outside shots against Taylor, Kenysha Tennant and Danielle Liggens.
"I kept telling the girls, Our defense is going to win this game," Seimetz said.
Taylor added 13 points and six rebounds for the Tigers (19-4), who advanced to Tuesday's regional semifinal against Medina Buckeye at Barberton High School.
And as much as it hurt to lose, Salem coach Steve Stewart recognized how much the win meant to Rayen's program.
"I feel good for them," he said. "This wouldn't have been my preference, but they've got a nice team. I think they'll represent us well at the regional."
McGarry, one of six seniors on Salem's team, finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, while senior forward Sarah Hamilton added 12 points and seven rebounds.
The rest of the team combined for just seven points.
Quakers offer no excuses
The Quakers (22-2), who finished fourth in the final Associated Press poll and had won 47 of their last 49 games, were missing two key players, freshman Kelly Roelen and senior Vanessa Kelly. Several other players were banged up, but Stewart refused to use that as an excuse.
"We were as healthy as we've been in some time," he said. "That's not why we lost."
The Tigers were just better on Saturday, Stewart said. After two years of being on top, it was someone else's turn.
Following the game, as the Rayen players started cutting the nets, Seimetz realized she wasn't done coaching.
"Keep cutting," she told Taylor. "Make sure you get a piece of it."
The nets aren't big enough to share with everyone on the North Side, but the title is. And Rayen's fan base is only going to get bigger over the next few days.
"This is really a boost for our community," Seimetz said. "Everyone's always looking to our boys programs. Now they're beginning to look at us. Now we've taken the next step.
"I know everyone at the school is going to rally around us."