West Branch prepares for Barberton Regional
By Tom Williams
During last week’s Division II district tournament at Austintown Fitch High School, West Branch senior point guard Brenna Rito referred to the Falcons’ gymnasium as the Warriors’ ”home away from home.”
The Warriors soon might add Barberton High School, site of the week’s regional, to the list.
For six of the past seven seasons, West Branch has played in the district title game. The Warriors won the championship three times in four seasons. (The only blemish came last year when Poland defeated West Branch in the sectional final).
Wednesday, the Warriors (24-2) will be playing for the third time at Barberton. The opponent will be Parma Padua Franciscan, the second-seeded winners of the Elyria district.
“I means so much because we’ve worked so hard,” junior Natalie Zuchowski said. “We deserve to be there.”
Two years ago, West Branch won both of its games at Barberton to earn a trip to Columbus.
Rito was a member on the state team.
“I didn’t play as much, but I was a part of it and that felt good,” Rito said. “This feels great — my senior year. This group of girls, I love them and can’t ask for anything better.”
In this year’s district, the top-seeded Warriors defeated Struthers (49-40) and Southeast (55-50). They take a 22-game winning streak into the regional after losing twice in their first four games.
Zuchowski and senior Emma Rankin will be making their first regional appearance. Two years ago, they were on Southeast, which lost to West Branch in the district tournament. They transferred to West Branch after the Warriors played in the state semifinal.
Unlike Ursuline, the Division III regional qualifier which relies on Dayshanette Harris and Simone Comer for most of its scoring, West Branch has a much more balanced attack. Zuchowski (13 points) and Rito (10) are the scoring leaders. Other starters are Rankin, Kayla Hovorka and Sarrah Tennefoss.
Coming off the bench regularly are Hannah Ridgway, Delaney Rito, Shannon Wolfe and Grace Heath.
“We did that all year long,” said coach Walt DeShields, whose team won the Northeastern Buckeye Conference. “There is a lot of trust in those players. I can’t say enough about our chemistry — it goes a long way.
“We don’t have that big-time 20-point scorers — we have a lot of 10s and 9s and 8s,” DeShields said. “They are very unselfish on the court.”
Brenna Rito said, “We rely on each other. When somebody makes the shot, it’s our shot. We get so excited.”
“Whatever we need to do to win, we all stick together,” the post player said.
DeShields said winning a district title is not easy.
“People think it looks like a piece of cake,” DeShields said. “It starts all summer long, working hard.
“We started the season 2-2 — we didn’t know which way it was going to go.”
DeShields said losing at Poland last year motivated this year’s team.
“We knew we had some good, young talent and they just got motivated to get back to Fitch,” he said. “It was a good four-team tournament.”
“We’ve got our work cut out for us at Barberton, but I’m sure these girls will be ready,” DeShields said.