MINSTER — Expectations were already high for Fort Loramie’s girls basketball team before its season opener on Saturday. Every player is returning from last season’s squad, which was ranked No. 1 in the final Division IV state poll and finished 26-2.
Those expectations won’t be lowered after the Redskins’ performance against the defending Div. IV state champions.
The Redskins started the season with a dominating 47-19 victory over neighboring rival Minster, which beat them in a regional final last March on its way to earning its second consecutive state championship.
After a close first quarter, Fort Loramie ran away quickly. Minster could barely find any shots against the Redskins’ full-court pressure defense and was scoreless over a 12-minute stretch that spanned from late in the first quarter to midway through the third.
When the team could find shots, the Redskins often grabbed the rebound and prevented many second-chance looks. The Wildcats shot 6 for 37 (16.2 percent) from the field and 4 for 11 from the free-throw line.
Fort Loramie didn’t have many offensive struggles. Though several point-blank shots in the post didn’t fall, the Redskins shot 17 for 40 (43 percent) from the field — which is more impressive given that half the team had less than two weeks’ worth of practice before Saturday’s contest.
“There were some rusty spots on our offense that we need to work on, with passing lanes and things like that,” Fort Loramie coach Carla Siegel said. “But our defensive effort I thought was huge.
“… I challenged the girls all week that we wanted to beat them by at least 10 rebounds, and I think we were pretty close to that number. I thought the girls did a great job of limiting (Minster) to one shot only.”
Seven of Fort Loramie’s 13 players were on the school’s volleyball team, which lost to New Bremen in the D-IV state championship match on Nov. 9. Siegel said those players had participated in 10 practices over the last two weeks before taking the court on Saturday.
Two other players (Corynn Heitkamp and Caitlyn Gasson) also had late starts to basketball practice after joining the team following the girls cross country squad’s third-place finish in the D-III state meet on Nov. 3.
“We’ve had some years where girls came late (due to other sports’ postseason runs), but I don’t think we’ve ever had this many start late, and they’re all impact players,” Siegel said. “We’ll be okay in a week or two. We’ve still got to get some things ironed out, but we’ll still be okay.”
Though Fort Loramie returns all its starters from last season, Siegel has yet to settle on this year’s starting lineup, partly due to junior Dana Rose moving to the post full-time after performing point guard and forward duties last year.
No matter the personnel on the floor on Saturday, the Redskins distributed the ball evenly and had nine players score.
Sophomore forward Ava Sholits led the squad with 10 points while Rose and Gasson each scored seven. Junior forward Jadyn Puthoff came off the bench in the fourth quarter and scored six points in a one-minute span. Junior forward Kenzie Hoelscher had five rebounds and four blocks and senior guard Kennedie Gephart had four steals and four assists.
Minster coach Mike Wiss said the team struggled to keep up with Fort Loramie less than 24 hours after it opened the season with a come-from-behind 57-53 win over Wapakoneta.
“They get in your bubble and they try to make you uncomfortable,” Wiss said of the Redskins. “They did that pretty successfully to a lot of (our players).
“That was a tough one for us last night; the fourth quarter took 45 minutes. That’s tough to do two nights in a row.”
The Wildcats (1-1) lost several players from last season, including forward Courtney Prenger, who is already getting playing time at Xavier.
The team has two big returnees in junior guards Ivy Wolf and Janae Hoying, which played big roles in the squad’s state championship runs the last two years. Outside of those two, the squad is looking for consistent scorers — particularly in the post.
“It’s going to be a process to try and get us to that point where somebody else is ready to score,” Wiss said. “We’re not there yet. We’re not going to quit; we’re going to keep battling and keep fighting.”
Wiss said he has no doubt the team’s players will use Saturday’s loss as a big learning opportunity.
“When all is said and done, they’re not going to remember the score of the Fort Loramie home game, but they’re going to remember what just occurred in the locker room,” Wiss said. “Nothing that I said, but what they said. They’re going to remember the relationships and the friendships that occur off the floor, more than they do the Fort Loramie basketball score that year.”
Wolf led Minster with 12 points, seven of which came in the first quarter. Hoying made her only basket of the night with 30 seconds left to pull Minster within 11-9 of Fort Loramie.
It was the last points the squad scored until 4:22 mark in the third quarter. Fort Loramie boosted its lead to 20-9 by halftime, then scored the first nine points of the third quarter.
Lauren Mox and Wolf hit consecutive 3-pointers to pull the Wildcats within 29-15 with 3:20 left and made a basket with 6:40 left in the fourth to shrink the gap to 32-17.
The Redskins quickly pulled away from there. Rose made a free throw and Sholtis made two consecutive baskets to increase the lead to 37-19 with 4:44 left, then Puthoff made two baskets and hit a pair of free throws to push the lead to 41-19 with 3:46 left.
The Redskins will start Shelby County Athletic League play on Tuesday when they host Fairlawn. Minster will play its third game in five days when it travels to Celina for a nonconference game on Tuesday.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.