To capture the Division IV state title in Columbus this weekend, Minster will have to beat two of the state’s top teams.
That’s nothing new for the Wildcats.
Minster will face Waterford in a state semifinal at 3 p.m. on Thursday at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus. Waterford (26-1) finished the season as the top-ranked Div. IV team in the state Associated Press poll.
The Waterford Wildcats have made the state final four each of the last four years. They won the D-IV title in 2016 and finished as runner-up in 2015 and 2017. Waterford beat Jackson Center in a state semifinal last year before losing to Berlin Hiland in the championship game.
“I know that they have a senior-dominated team and have been there before,” Minster coach Mike Wiss said. “… I’m sure they have a little chip on their shoulder that they want to take the next step as well. They’re a very athletic team, run the floor well and really get up in your face. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Minster (24-3) has faced a bunch of opponents which were state-ranked at one time or another this season, including Elyria Catholic, Tri-Village and Bellevue.
And that’s not including the state-ranked Midwest Athletic Conference opponents the Wildcats faced: New Bremen, Versailles and Fort Recovery.
“We pride ourselves on that our schedule prepares us for what we’re about to see,” Wiss said. “Obviously, playing in the MAC, you go through those battles… Very intense, high-pressure games, and we hope those games have prepared us for this.”
It was during a stretch of state-ranked opponents that Minster suffered its losses. The Wildcats lost to Elyria Catholic by three points in a game in the Classic in the Country on Jan. 14 and then lost consecutive games to Versailles (46-39) and Anna (45-40) on Jan. 25 and 27.
Senior guard Demaris Wolf, who scored 12 points in a regional final win over Fort Loramie last Saturday, said the rut was due to subpar defense and rebounding.
“That time span when we were losing, our rebounding wasn’t there, and I knew we had to fix it to go far in tournament,” Wolf said. “I’m really happy with what we’ve done.”
Minster has been working towards a state final four berth for the last three seasons. After losing in regional games each of the last two seasons, the Wildcats captured a regional title with a win over the Redskins last Saturday.
Minster has relied on balance between two experienced post players and a host of guards. Forwards Courtney Prenger (6-foot-2 junior) and Taylor Kogge (6-0 senior) lead the team in the post while Paige Thobe (6-0) contributes off the bench.
As much as the three help on offense, Wiss said their defensive presence is equally felt.
“As much as we try to pressure guards, it’s nice to have Taylor and Courtney back inside,” Wiss said. “Not that we jump a bunch and not that we try to leave our feet and swat stuff, but just having a 6-1 and 6-2 hand in the face, we’ve seen that alter a lot of shots. We’re happy to have those guys underneath.”
A host of guards have helped Minster move at a fast pace this season, including Wolf, senior Alli Fischer and juniors Danielle Barhorst and Jessica Falk. Freshman guard Ivy Wolf has started for Minster for most of the season, and freshman Janae Hoying has steadily seen more playing time as the season has worn on.
Waterford is led by senior forward Alli Kern, who was named the Div. IV player of the year by the Ohio Prep Sportswriter Association earlier this week. Kern, a 5-10 forward, averages 15 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. She’s started for the team since the 2015-16 season.
Megan Ball, a 5-11 senior guard/forward, averages 14.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Junior guard Rachael Adams averages 10 points.
“They’re probably going to be a little bit longer than us in the open floor, but we’re going to do our darndest to do what we do,” Wiss said. “We’ll definitely have our work cut out for us. I like how we’ve matured as the season as has gone on, and (Ivy Wolf and Hoying) are a big part of it.”
Demaris Wolf said she thinks the mid-season rut helped the team learn how to play under pressure against tough competition. She thinks that could help them this weekend.
“We have a lot of heart and guts, and we take pride in our defense,” Wolf said. “As long as we do what we do, I think we’ll be good.”
Wiss is in his second season as the team’s head coach after taking over for longtime coach Nann Stechschulte, who returned to the program as an assistant coach this season.
“I’ve told many people it’s only 18 inches, the width of the seat, from the assistant coach’s chair to the head coach, but there’s a lot more to it than those 18 inches,” Wiss said. “Very fortunate to have Nann right next to me. It’s a big deal for me and for our girls to have Nann’s ability to help us prepare for this.”