By Doug Chapin
Winning a high school basketball district championship is a wonderful time for a school, a community, a program, a team, a coaching staff … but it also means a lot of work for that staff.
Potential upcoming regional tournament opponents usually are unfamiliar foes and much time is spent scouting games at other district venues and trying to round up film for scouting purposes.
That is not the case for the girls Division IV regional semifinal tonight at 6:15 at Massillon Perry High School. Perennial regional qualifier Lowellville (23-3) faces first-time district champ Maplewood (21-5) in a rematch of their game played Feb. 11 in Trumbull County.
Lowellville’s Rockets won that game, 59-50, but it was closer than the final score.
“I’m sure (Maplewood coach) Mark (Yoder) would tell you that both teams did not play their best,” Lowellville coach Tony Matisi said. “It was a pretty ugly game. We were losing until about 2 minutes left in the game and we won by nine, but most of that was free throws and a breakaway layup at the end.
“I think our girls know how tough a game it was. If it was a blowout win it might have been tougher to motivate them this week. I think we are pretty well focused.”
“I think it’s a positive for both teams,” Yoder said of the dress rehearsal. “We know what to expect from them, what kind of team they are, what players they have. We did not scout Lowellville before we played them in the regular season and we didn’t scout them on purpose. We told the girls we weren’t going to tell them anything about this team. We wanted to see if we could make adjustments throughout the game.
“We’ve studied that film quite a bit and we’re pretty confident we know what their players are capable of. We know some of the things we need to do on defense and what we can do against them on offense.”
Maplewood’s Rockets won the Northeast Athletic Conference Stars Division, but Yoder says the only goal the team set was a district title.
“This year we said we don’t have any goals for the regular season,” he said. “We had one goal and I wanted them focused on that one goal all year, and that was to win the district championship.”
The Rockets captured the district at Rootstown, beating Lordstown, 51-46, on Saturday. That avenged a regular season loss to the Red Devils.
Lowellville defeated Lisbon 44-29 to win the South Range district. The Blue Devils were a surprise finalist, having upset second-seeded Columbiana in the semifinal round, preventing a third game between Lowellville and the Clippers. Columbiana was the Rockets’ only serious competition on the way to yet another Inter Tri-County League Tier Two title.
Lowellville has been to the regional tournament for five years in a row and seven times in the last 10 years. The Rockets are led by seniors Kaye Solak, Rachel Durbin and Maddie Opritza, all of whom have been key contributors throughout the recent run of success. Junior Katie Sedita also has plenty of experience as a three-year letter winner, and freshman Courtney Conklin rounds out the lineup.
The Rockets lost a trio of four-year starters to graduation — Emily Carlson, Taylor Hvisdak and Ashley Moore — all of whom scored 1,000 points.
“I think the girls’ motivation this year was just to make sure everyone knew they were good enough to do it on their own,” Matisi said of his returning players. “I think that was a big motivator. We weren’t the prettiest thing, not the flavor of the month, our dynamic changed totally. The last few years we were a finesse team, but we are a blue-collar team today. They took what was given to them and made it work for them.”
Maplewood features senior scorer Allison Bell; post players Brooke Dawson, a junior, and Ryley Urchek, a sophomore; and fellow sophomores Miranda Sloan, the point guard, and Victoria Karlovic.
Both coaches are pleased with the improvement their team has shown.
“As a coach you want to see change from December to February,” Matisi said. “I think because we are such a veteran team our offense has been consistent all year. I have seen such an improvement in our defense in the last three weeks. We really are playing great defense now.”
“I’ve seen them working a lot better together,” Yoder said of his Rockets. “You can put a certain five out there in different positions and they know each other a lot better right now. Not only do they know their own capabilities better but they know their teammates. Everybody knows their role, everybody knows what they are capable of.”
And since the teams know each other — courtesy of their Feb. 11 meeting — it should make for an interesting contest tonight.