FORT LORAMIE — Two seasons ago, the Fort Loramie Redskins girls basketball team reached the Division IV regional finals. Their season ended against eventual-state champion Minster. Last season, Fort Loramie reached the regional final. Again, eventual-state champion Minster ended their season.
This season, the Redskins are ready to go the distance. And to do it they’ll play ‘Loramie ball,’ as coach Carla Siegel calls it.
“I tell my players all the time we need to play Loramie ball. I’ve had reporters ask me what Loramie ball is? It’s everything,” Siegel said. “It’s fundamentals. It’s playing great defense. It’s communicating. It’s making the extra pass. I feel like this year, this group has bought in 100 percent on what we want them to do on the floor.”
Fort Loramie returns to the Division IV state tournament after a four-year absence and since winning it all in 2015. Loramie (26-0), ranked No. 1 in the final state poll, plays Willoughby Cornerstone Christian Academy (22-5) in the state semifinals 6 p.m. Thursday at Ohio State University’s historic St. John Arena. No. 8 Minster (22-5) and Beverly Fort Frye (26-2) follow at 8 p.m.
The semifinals winners return to St. John Arena 2 p.m. Saturday for the state title game.
Fort Loramie makes its 10th state appearance with championships in 2015 and 2013. Cornerstone Christian goes for the third time overall and second straight season.
Last year Cornerstone Christian lost to Minster in the semifinals, 65-31.
“We’re excited to be back and have a second chance at a tremendous opportunity that most coaches and teams don’t usually get. We’re truly humbled by it,” Cornerstone Christian coach Lisa Stopp said.
“We’re also humbled by last year’s experience playing Minster. Granted, they were an incredible team and really well coached. We came (to the state tournament) thinking we could hold our own. We learned a valuable lesson. That valuable lesson is probably our biggest strength this year, in that you can’t play a great team tentatively or with any fear. It’s not a great feeling when you don’t put your best game forward. That’s something we’ve talked about all year.”
Cornerstone returns four starters from last season’s team. Senior Madison Cloonan leads the team with 13.7 points, senior Kailey Tyna averages 13, junior Riley Stopp 11.5 and senior Michaela Cloonan 10.9.
Fort Loramie counters with all five starters back from last season. The Redskins, though, went into the season using a rotation of about nine girls thanks to a late start. The Redskins volleyball team reached the state semifinals making eight players two weeks late to practice. The cross country team qualified for the state championships, giving two more players a late start.
By the time the season started Fort Loramie had about nine practices with a full team. Siegel and her staff didn’t settle on a set starting five until a dozen games in.
“I think that was great for us. It gave everybody the mindset they were good enough to be a starter, Siegel said. “Very unselfish team. A team that loves and supports one another. They truly are a family.”
Six players average between 10.7 and 5.8 points for the Redskins with junior Dana Rose (10.7), sophomore Ava Sholtis (10.6), senior Marissa Meiring (10.1), junior Kenzie Hoelscher (9.4), senior Taylor Ratermann (8.1) and senior Kennedi Gephart (5.8).
“On a given night it’s nice you can depend on other players. I can’t really say that’s our biggest strength going into this game,” said Stopp, adding Cornerstone matches up well with Loramie’s starting five but it drops off from there. “Loramie goes maybe 11 or 14 deep. They have a bigger strength in their depth. I’m hoping that can hold its own when we get tired.”
The Redskins are outscoring opponents 72-22, spearheaded by a staggering 30 turnovers forced per game. Eight different players have 41 steals or more, led by Sholtis’ 83 and junior Caitlyn Gasson’s 72.
“I’ve had many good teams over the years,” Siegel said. “I’ve been blessed and I’m full of gratitude for the players I’ve had. But this team is the one that has fully and truly understood our defensive concept as far as trapping and rotating and getting after the ball.”
Stopp and her Patriots got an up-close look at the Redskins when Fort Loramie traveled to Minster for the season opener. Stopp saw the matchup as an opportunity to team build. The Patriots attended the game to get an idea what it takes to be the best in the state.
“People probably thought it was a bold move. There wasn’t any kind of game plan or anything like that,” Stopp said. “I just wanted our kids to see two great teams in D-IV. … We figured Fort Loramie would be (in the state semifinals) with everybody they had back. As for Minster, they’re a machine, too. It’s neat see they’re in the final four, too.
“As we approach Fort Loramie, obviously it’s a similar situation to last year with Minster being No. 1 in the state poll. I have tremendous respect for coach Siegel and the way she runs her program. We know we’re in for a battle. We hope the lessons of last year can help us this year.”
As for Fort Loramie, the Redskins hope to use those two regional final losses as inspiration, too. That and ‘Loramie ball,’ which got rolling with legendary coach Jane Poeppelman in 1971.
“We have great community support. A lot of my players, I’ve played with their mothers. Cousins play together. It’s just a very family-oriented community,” Siegel said of not only Fort Loramie’s success, but that of Minster and D-III state semifinalist Anna. “I think the little kids are coming to the games and they’re watching their sisters play. They’re watching their cousins play. There’s just that expectation that they want to be part of it when they come play. … There’s a hard work ethic up here. People work hard and they want to excel.”