Carley Whitney recalls having conversations with her players last May about playing in the 2019 state girls basketball tournament in Columbus.
The talks were filled with optimism, but Whitney, her coaching staff and the Irish players all believed the chatter could one day become a reality.
That day will come on Thursday when St. Vincent-St. Mary (18-9) will meet Dayton Carroll (26-2) in a Division II state semifinal game at 6 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center’s Value City Arena.
“We peaked at the right time and have kept it rolling,” Whitney said on Monday during a teleconference. “This is where we thought we were going to be.
“… Back in May, we had a meeting where we said we are going to win a state championship and we have all kind of believed in that.”
St. V-M won Class AAA girls basketball state titles in 1979 over Barberton and in 1980 over Cincinnati Mother of Mercy, and the Irish topped Sherwood Fairview in the 1995 Division III state title game.
St. V-M also reached the state semifinals in 1993 and 2014. Whitney, a 2007 St. V-M graduate, played basketball for the Irish and was an assistant coach on the 2014 team.
Whitney said this year’s St. V-M team “pounds it inside every chance that we get.”
The players who do the bulk of the scoring for the Irish are 6-foot-2 freshman Lanae Riley, 5-foot-8 senior Maria Dobson and 6-0 senior Sophia Williams. Those three start along with 5-4 sophomore Dream Cherry and 5-6 senior Jada Haines.
The top St. V-M reserves are 6-3 senior Aubrie Marsh, 5-10 freshman Annie Watson, 5-6 sophomore Tezjah Brooks and 5-11 senior Mackenzie Moss.
St. V-M advanced to Columbus by defeating Lake County Perry 60-52 in a regional semifinal and Poland Seminary 56-46 in the final at Barberton.
“We play probably one of the hardest Division II schedules in the state if you ask me,” Whitney said. “Eighteen of our 22 regular-season games are Division I opponents. We finished the regular season 13-9, and at one point to start the season we were 2-5.
“We played Canton McKinley, GlenOak and others. We actually played two of the teams here in Division I through IV in the regular season. We played Cornerstone Christian and GlenOak. We play a hard schedule to get battle tested for the playoffs so there is nothing that the girls haven’t seen, and our playoff games have shown that. We had some tough, knock-down, drag ‘em out regional games between Perry and Poland.”
St. V-M lost to GlenOak, McKinley and Cornerstone Christian. The Irish also lost to Archbishop Hoban and North Canton Hoover before winning their last two regular-season games against Massillon and Stow.
The tournament trail for the Irish started with a 63-29 win over Cleveland Central Catholic and they won the district title with a 63-33 win over Cleveland Heights Beaumont and a 64-53 win over Shaker Heights Laurel at Nordonia.
Carroll at a glance
The Patriots were the Division II state runner-up in 2011 to Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown.
This year’s Carroll team features 6-0 junior Julia Keller, 5-8 senior Elisabeth Bush, 5-6 junior Allie Stefanek, 5-6 sophomore Ava Lickliter and 5-10 sophomore Megan Leraas.
“We have played some tough teams,” Carroll coach Cecilia Grosselin said. “Kettering Fairmont is a Division I school that we beat and we played Thornville Sheridan earlier in the year and we beat them as well.
“Our strength comes from our guards. Another strength is that on any given night any of my five starters can be the leading scorer for the game.”
Carroll’s tournament run includes wins over Franklin (57-43), Carroll Bloom-Carroll (45-30), Cincinnati Archbishop McNicholas (47-37), Eaton (65-30), Dayton Belmont (56-14) and Dayton Meadowdale (54-14).
The other state semifinal at Ohio State pits Toledo Rogers (25-2) against Sheridan (25-2) at 8 p.m. Friday. The state title game is scheduled to tip off at 2 p.m. Saturday at OSU.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com.