Lake’s Cinderella tournament run not to be forgotten

J. Patrick Eaken

Lake girls basketball Cinderella tournament run came full circle, ending in a Division III regional semifinal tournament loss to seventh-ranked Ottawa-Glandorf, 69-30, at Ohio Northern University’s King Horn Center.
Lake’s season ended at 14-13, including just 4-10 in the Northern Buckeye Conference. However, all four of their tournament wins came against teams that beat them twice during the league season.
The NBC was going to be hard to figure out when the season began, and the league’s coaches knew that.
        “Coming into the year, even at the preseason coaches’ meeting, we knew it was going to be competitive. It made it really, really difficult to vote on for all the teams, and then you look at the scores across the season, every game is close. There were no off nights. You had to be ready every single night, ready to compete, and I think that has kind of benefitted us,” Lake coach Joe Nowak said.
        “If you look at the league records, you will see we were competitive in all those games. It’s just a handful of plays, two or three plays in every game that kind of separated us record-wise. The important thing right now is we learned from those, we grew, and that’s definitely benefitting us now.”
Lake’s four tournament wins got the program its third girls basketball district title in school history and losing in the regionals does not blemish a season where Lake went 4-0 against four teams it went 0-8 against during the regular season.
“I think, first of all, that I’m tremendously proud of the girls these last two-and-a-half weeks with this little run that we put together after a tough season,” Nowak said. “I think it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life and I think they will, too. Tonight’s outcome doesn’t change that one bit.”
During the regular season Lake lost to Eastwood (65-53, 58-52), Woodmore (64-48, 61-57), Otsego (47-46, 52-47) and Elmwood (45-44, 48-35). During the tournament, the Flyers defeated Eastwood (69-65), Woodmore (64-57), Otsego (68-65, 2 OT) and Elmwood (45-34) in the district final.
Hayley St. John, a 5-foot-11 junior forward who leads the team in scoring at 15.4 points per game, says she knew that the team was capable all along.
“It definitely shows that we are capable of proving who we are against the teams that we got beat by during the league, and then beating them in the tournament,” St. John said. “It shows that we are capable of a lot. Now, next year, we know what we can do and that will really help a lot, going with the mentality that we had going into the tournament.”
Sophomore Delani Robinson, a 5-8 guard, was the sparkplug in the first two tournament wins, leading the team by scoring 20-plus points — well above her 12 points per game average.
It was one of the cases where a team gets a second season in the tournament, and the Lake girls took advantage.
“I think that we knew that we needed to do something different if we wanted to prove everyone wrong, and from the point that we can do it,” Robinson said. “We knew throughout the whole season that we can do it. We just didn’t know what was going wrong and I felt like at practices we couldn’t have worked harder, and then everything just started clicking at the right time.”
Nowak says it says a lot about the character of his team.
“I think the way that this team got here says a lot about who they are as people and the way that they stuck together and used a tough season to propel them forward in the postseason says a lot about the types of players that we have and the relationships that they have together, to stick together,” Nowak said.
“Coming into the year with having some young players that we were confident could do some things for us. We definitely saw that potential to have a good year. It just didn’t materialize as quickly as what we thought it might,” Nowak continued.
“But then to experience some difficult times, I think it really means a lot to kind of get things to click at the right time — to have glimpses of good moments throughout the course of the year and then that magic we have, we lost, and then we find it again, and then to have it come back together at the end of the year says a lot about the leadership that we have on the team, to stick together and kind of keep people together. But, then, it’s also just the attitudes of our younger players and our older players to make that happen. I think it’s special.”
Meanwhile, Ottawa-Glandorf improved to 25-1 and faced the Columbus Africentric (19-4)-Margaretta (24-1) winner in the regional final for the right to advance to the state final four. Nowak had only good things to say about the O-G program.
“That is a really good team that beat us tonight, and a great program,” Nowak said. “We knew that it was going to be a tough go anyways. At the end of the day, I think they’ve got just too many great players that kind of wore on us, pressured us and really bothered us. But, overall, I’m really proud of the girls.”


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