MINSTER — In their bid for a third straight state championship, the Minster Wildcats’ girls basketball team has overcome their share of challenges.
The Wildcats, who finished third in the Midwest Athletic Conference, survived a brutal sectional and district tournament that featured co-MAC champs Fort Recovery and Marion Local, as well as New Knoxville.
The Wildcats overcame the graduation losses that mounted from the past two state title teams.
And then there was that first week of practice.
“This group is very different from the last couple years,” Minster coach Mike Wiss said of the youthful Wildcats, who returned two regulars from last season with juniors Ivy Wolf and Janae Hoying. “Honest to God, we went through the first few days of practice this year and our coaches looked at each other and said we need to go back to square one.”
With a less veteran group than previous seasons the Wildcats worked more on the basics. Now they’re back in Columbus.
Minster goes for a third straight Division IV state championship – and fifth overall – starting with Thursday’s semifinals at Ohio State University’s historic St. John Arena. Minster (22-5), ranked No. 8 in the final state poll, plays Beverly Fort Frye (26-2) at 8 p.m. No. 1 Fort Loramie (26-0) plays Willoughby Cornerstone Christian (22-5) in the 6 p.m. semifinal.
The winners return to St. John Arena 2 p.m. Saturday for the D-IV state championship.
“It’s pretty gratifying in that that it’s a brand new group,” Wiss said. “We let seven seniors go who had been part of those previous two years. This group took on a brand new look. I’m proud to see how they’ve come around at the right time.”
Defense is still the Wildcats’ strength. They outscore opponents 54-36 and force 19 turnovers per game.
Offensively, Wolf — the MAC player of the year — leads the team with 19.1 points, 4.5 steals and 3.7 assists. Hoying adds 12.5 points and 2.5 assists, senior Averi Wolf 6.1 points and sophomore Ella Mescher 5.1 points. Mescher (3.3), junior Dana Prenger (3.2) and senior Lauren Mox (3.0) lead in rebounding.
“One of the coolest things is how (Wolf and Hoying) have brought a brand new group of girls with them and shared the ball. They’re playing together,” Wiss said. “At this time of the year there’s some good basketball by (all four state semifinalists). All those teams should be very proud of where they’re at.”
Fort Frye, making its second state semifinal appearance (2013), is led by sophomore Hannah Archer’s 14.4 points. She has 77 of the Cadets’ 178 three-pointers.
Junior Lexie Huck averages 10.8 points, sophomore Makenzie Dalton 8.6, freshman Mattie Schneider 7.1 and senior Kiersten Kesselring 6.7. Dalton (4.7), Archer (4.6) and Kesselring (3.7) are the top rebounders.
Kesselring is the Cadets’ tallest player a 5-foot-9. Minster has at least five regulars 5-10 and taller, led by Mescher at 6-0.
Fort Frye’s losses were to Vincent Warren, ranked No. 4 in the final D-II state poll, with a 26-25 final and Wheeling Park, the No. 1 big school in West Virginia, 44-31.
Cadets’ coach Dan Liedtke considered retiring from coaching after his daughters went through the program. He said he saw something special with the current sophomores when they were in middle school. He figured he might want to stick around a few more seasons.
“They have the attitude and commitment,” Liedtke said. “It’s been a work in progress. We have big goals. This group deserves to be here so we’re happy with it.
“(Minster is) going to be a heck of a challenge for us. I know they have size, they have guards. They have the total package. But this is what (Fort Frye) has been about. Our team is going to give it everything they’ve got. … We’ll probably be undoubtedly the smallest team you’ll see at state. When they get up and down the floor they look much bigger than they are. They’re ready for any challenge.”
Minster’s losses came to Fort Loramie (47-19), Fort Recovery (43-36), Marion Local (33-32), D-II state semifinalist Dayton Carroll (67-65 double overtime) and Kalida (48-46 overtime).
Minster beat Ottoville the past two seasons in the state finals, winning 63-48 in 2018 and 53-37 last season. The Wildcats also won state titles in 1998 and 2004. To get another Minster will focus on the little things – winning each possession and winning each quarter — on the state’s biggest stage.
“To heck with the game, let’s win the small games in the middle of the big game,” Wiss tells his team. “The words we say sometimes are, ‘Offense sells tickets. Defense wins games. Rebounding wins championships.’ There will be a lot of ticket sales for people wanting to see offense. That’s what people want to see. But defense and rebounding can never leave you if you want to win a championship.”