Shadyside, Central meet again in 2A

When it comes to girls’ basketball, Shadyside and Wheeling Central know each other extremely well.

Actually, it might be too well according to the respective head coaches.

Regardless, the two small-school powers will have a chance to add another chapter to their growing rivalry Saturday morning at 10, but the stakes will be a little higher.

The Lady Tigers and Lady Maroon Knights will stage a rematch of their title game from last season at Ohio University Eastern’s Health and Physical Education Center in the Class 2A title game of the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Girls Basketball Championship.

“We’re absolutely looking forward to this chance,” said Lady Tigers’ head coach Tina Yates. “Our kids had hoped we’d have a chance to avenge last year’s game.”

For the Lady Tigers, this is their fifth straight appearance in the OVAC final. Wheeling Central, meanwhile, is making its second straight and second overall trip to the St. Clairsville campus.

“This series has really become a nice rivalry,” said Wheeling Central head coach Penn Kurtz. “Shadyside’s been a dominant team in the Ohio Valley and one of the great teams in the state of Ohio, which is kind of the same roles we’ve been fortunate enough to play in West Virginia. I know both teams really respect each other and enjoy playing each other.”

While the Lady Knights are bidding for a repeat and their eighth conference title overall, Kurtz and company really only feature just two players, Colleen McCormick and Emily Bucon, who saw a lot of action in last year’s final.

“It’s exciting for the team to be back in this game,” Kurtz said. “For most of our team, this will be a new experience, but I think our kids are ready for it. We’ve played a challenging schedule and I think we’ll be ready to go when we step on the floor.”

The Lady Tigers, who upset second-seeded Bridgeport on its home floor in Wednesday’s semifinal, 52-49, have certainly challenged themselves throughout the course of the first 21 games.

Counting Bridgeport, Shadyside has played just seven games against Division IV-sized schools. They wanted to upgrade their schedule and played six games against what would equal Ohio Division I squads.

“We wanted to be as battle-tested as possible,” Yates said. “Our kids responded to the challenges and I think the schedule has definitely made us a better team as we prepare for this game and beyond into our sectional.”

The Lady Tigers and Lady Maroon Knights split their regular season matchups with each winning on its home floor.

However, Central was a decisive winner in the first meeting and played without standouts McCormick and Bucon because of injury.

“That’s about 40 points a game for us that was out of the lineup when we played in Shadyside,” Kurtz said. “Emily still isn’t 100 percent, so we’re still not quite where we want or need to be yet, but we did play a great second half in the semifinal.”

The Lady Knights reached this game by dispatching fourth-seeded Clay-Battelle to the consolation round. Central blew open a tight game at half to win by an 81-46 count.

As preparations continue for the game, Yates will spend time looking at both Central games, but realizes that her team’s ability to slow down Bucon and McCormick will be key.

“We definitely have to stop both of them,” Yates said. “They’re good players, good scorers, play well on defense, their tall and long, so it’s a challenge.”

On the other side of the floor, Shadyside has a duo of players, in Karli Bonar and Hayley Holenka, who’ve caused many coaches to lie awake at night trying to come up with a plan. Kurtz has actually been that guy many times in the last four years.

“I think I am going to send (Bonar and Holenka) a graduation card in the spring,” Kurtz said. “We’ve faced them too many times over the years.”

During the semifinal, Bonar became the state of Ohio’s all-time leader for 3-point goals. She buried seven against Bridgeport and now sits at 332 bonus baskets in her career.

For the season, Bonar is averaging just under 20 points a game and more than four triples a night.

“I think the best way to slow Bonar down is tell her the game starts at noon and hope she shows up late,” Kurtz joked. “All kidding aside, when you play Shadyside, you know Karli and Hayley are going to get their points. We have to hold the rest of their players under control.”

Holenka, a tireless defender, is a versatile offensive player. Whereas Bonar is the premier deep shooter in the Ohio Valley, Holenka is able to shoot the ball well, but she’s also more than capable of putting the ball on the deck. For the season, she averages 17.2 points per game.

The Shadyside supporting cast has shown glimpses this season that it’s ready to take the next step and be solid complements to the Bonar and Holenka duo.

Senior Kristen Fijalkowski is a solid defender and rebounder and came up with a clutch conventional 3-point play on Wednesday. Sophomore Kenzie Fielding is an athletic 5-11 post. She’s a solid rebounder and has developed as more of a scorer of late.

Rounding out the starting lineup is junior Toni Andes, who is a solid perimeter shooter.

“When Kristen, Toni and Kenzie play like they’re capable, we’re a much better team,” Yates said. “I think the biggest thing for us is to show up mentally prepared from the tip. I think we’ll be fine physically, but we have to be ready to play mentally.”

The Lady Tigers aren’t the deepest team around. Senior Dana Jackson and sophomore Logen Johnson are the top subs.

As for the Lady Maroon Knights, Bucon and McCormick are clearly the go-to-players, but Yates is impressed with how well the other Knights’ players execute their roles.

“They do a really good job with their roles because they understand them so well,” Yates said.

The impressive quality of the Knights is their depth. Kurtz feels comfortable playing as many as 11 or 12 players on most nights.

“Our depth is a great luxury,” Kurtz said. “A lot of teams focus on Colleen and Emily, but really, a lot of our games have been about who has the hot hand off the bench. We hope that balance we’ve had continues.”

Senior Beth Stayduhar gets the start at one of the guard spots, while Maria Olsen, who is a junior, is the point guard. Junior center Madison Basinger rounds out the starting lineup.

Off the bench, the likes of Ashton Cross, Delaney Denniston, Lindsey Baker, Cate Calissie, Regan Blaha, Sydney Bennington and MacKenzie Michaels all see quality minutes.