MEDINA: The district level of girls basketball is supposed to be where the nerves come out.
But what happens when a team is so used to being in the finals, it basically reserves the date once the season starts?
For Wadsworth, anything less than a regional final, which is where it has bowed out the last four seasons, is considered failure. In fact, this is the sixth year in a row the squad has reached the round of 16.
So when the national anthem played Thursday in a Medina Division I District final, there wasn’t even a hint of anxiousness before an 80-50 win by the top-seeded Grizzlies over third-seeded Berea-Midpark.
Why would there be with seniors Laurel Palitto and Jodi Johnson (12 points) playing in their third district championship and senior Jenna Johnson (13 points) pairing with sophomores Lexi Lance (12 points) and Sophia Fortner in her second district final?
Add sophomore Peyton Banks (16 points) coming off the bench and the Grizzlies (24-1) were as cool as an Ohio spring night.
“Obviously experience is going to make it a lot easier,” Jodi Johnson said. “We’re used to this type of atmosphere and coming here year after year and playing in the same gym.”
The tone was really set right off the opening whistle, as Wadsworth limited the Titans (18-7) to a 2-for-11 performance in the first quarter and forced 10 turnovers, using a full-court man press.
By the time the first eight minutes were in the books, the Grizzlies were up 22-4.
“That definitely set the tone in the beginning,” Jodi Johnson said. “You always want to go on runs like that and get out to a good start.”
The Grizzlies limited the Titans to 20-of-50 shooting and forced 25 turnovers in the game, holding 1,000-point scorer Zoranne Host to five points.
“Their girls are always in the right spot,” Berea-Midpark coach Kevin Braaten said. “They’re very disciplined. They’re well-coached. Their kids just know where to be and how to work together.
“You can’t simulate what they do in practice. They’re just a great team. Our kids were a little afraid. It was a rough start and obviously Wadsworth had a lot to do with that.”
With the win, Wadsworth heads to North Royalton on Tuesday where it will see a familiar opponent in Magnificat (21-4), which beat Cleveland St. Joseph Academy 49-26 to win the Valley Forge District.
The Grizzlies knocked the Blue Streaks out at the regional semifinal level in 2012 (54-24) and 2013 (46-27) and already hold a 47-29 win over Magnificat this season on Dec. 30.
Those games don’t mean anything to Wadsworth coach Andrew Booth.
“Before we played them the first time [in December], I thought they were talent-wise, man-for-man, height-, size- and skill-wise one of the top five teams I had scouted all year,” he said. “I know we handled them that game. Certainly we’re not that much better than them. Certainly they’re not that much worse than we were.
“The score was very deceiving. I know they’ll be very hungry, but I know our kids will be on a mission. I think we’ll be focused. I think it’ll be a great basketball game.”