For the first time since 2010, the Miami Trace Lady Panthers are going to the OHSAA Div. II State Girls Basketball Championship tournament Final Four.
Miami Trace (24-4) will play Hathaway Brown School (17-10) in a semifinal game 3 p.m. Thursday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of Ohio State University.
The first state semifinal will begin at 1 p.m. Thursday and features Ottawa-Glandorf (27-0, a team Miami Trace played and fell to earlier in the season, 57-46) and Kettering Alter (26-2).
The Record-Herald interviewed three players, senior Tori Riley and juniors Tanner Bryant and Victoria Fleihman, as well as head coach Ben Ackley, to get their thoughts on this achievement.
“It’s amazing,” senior Tori Riley said. “I’m so proud of the team. I know we work really hard every day; basketball is like, 24/7, 365, you know. It’s amazing to be a part of the team.”
Junior Tanner Bryant said the pressure is off.
“I definitely think there’s not as much pressure now,” Bryant said. “The goal was never to win state. It was just to get there. Now that we’ve made it and we’ve done it, we don’t want to stop now. You don’t ever want to lose. You don’t want to go in with the expectation to lose. I mean, we’re going to give it everything we have. At this point, winning state would be the ultimate goal, but I think just going through the entire experience is something that not a lot of kids get to do. We’re just taking it one day at a time.”
For junior Victoria Fliehman, this season has been a dream come true.
“It’s a dream come true,” Miami Trace junior Victoria Fliehman said. “Since I was in third, fourth, fifth grade, I remember going to watch the state championships and talk with my dad. Every little kid thinks about that. Now, it’s real; it’s happening.
“I think it’s still sinking in. With last year and the injury, that was pretty heartbreaking for me. I’m just trying to take it all in and enjoy it. Very, very few people get this experience and I want to make the most of it and enjoy my time up there. We made it, so the pressure is gone.”
Ben Ackley, tri-coach of the year in Division II for the entire state, along with Brindi Kandel of Perry and Andy Holderman of Tipp City Tippecanoe.
“This is very overwhelming and very humbling, to say the least,” Ackley said. “It is also very emotional. This hasn’t been an easy year for our kids. We’ve dealt with some issues and had some things come up during the course of the season. Our kids have handled everything very well. There are always trials and tribulations in every season.
Miami Trace was 14-0 when its hosted Ross Southeastern on Jan. 19 and lost 54-50. That began an un-Trace like skid.
“The four-game losing streak was hard,” Ackley said.
The next game was Jan. 21, a 57-46 loss at Ottawa-Glandorf. After that, Miami Trace hosted Chillicothe and lost, 49-34 and then went to Division I Reynoldsburg and fell, 41-33.
“Our kids battled through and believed in what we wanted to do,” Ackley said.
Since then, the Lady Panthers have won 10 games in a row, including six in the tournament.
“This is so much more than what you see on the surface,” Ackley said. “People see the 16 players and three coaches. It’s so much deeper than that. Coach Shaffer has roots in this, coach Mike Henry has roots in this, James Stutzman has roots in this; coach (Randy) Welsh has won a state title as an assistant baseball coach (in 2000 at Washington High School). We’ll really lean on him.
“Kasey (Bamberger, current MT assistant coach) played in the Final Four in 2010. I was fortunate enough to go to a Final Four in baseball (in 1999). We had a coaches’ meeting (Sunday) in Columbus. We got to go to the Schottenstein Center. When I walked out on the floor and look around, it was a little overwhelming. It really sunk in that this is real, that we’re going to do this.”
Ackley gave a capsule summary of Hathaway Brown School’s basketball team.
“They run a very deliberate offense,” Ackley said. “They have a 6-3 post player who will be attending Purdue next year on a full scholarship. They have another kid that’s six-foot and two more who are 5-11. They play a grind-it-out style. They want to get the ball inside. They’re very deliberate and patient on offense. They don’t score many points, but they don’t give up many points.”
“Hopefully we can be in a position in the last four minutes to win the ball game. I think we’ve proven over the season that we can play with absolutely anybody. That’s why we scrimmaged Kettering Alter before the season and that’s why we went to Ottawa-Glandorf to play a game and Reynoldsburg to play a game. Our non-league schedule was very good, as well as playing in a very competitive league.
“Our kids will not be scared,” Ackley said. “They’ll certainly be excited. We’re going to give them every thing we have on Thursday and do everything in our power to make the school and our community proud.”
Reach Chris Hoppes at 740-335-3611, ext. 1104, or on Twitter @choppes1