St. John, Conotton to meet in 1A title game

The Class 1A title game in the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Girls Basketball Championship is a matchup of unknowns.

Both St. John Central head coach Bubba Kapral and Conotton Valley head coach Chandra Myers spent much of Thursday on the phone trying to track down information on the other team from as many sources as possible.

What both do know is they don’t have much time to put together a gameplan. The top two seeds in the smallest classification will clash at 8 p.m. Saturday at Ohio University Eastern’s Health and Physical Education Center. St. John Central is seeking its 15th OVAC title in school history, while Conotton Valley owns just one conference title.

“Seriously, I don’t know a thing except they beat us on our home floor last year,” Kapral said as he worked the phones and email for more information. “I know they have one of the best players around in Olivia Bower, but other than that, I don’t know much, but we’ll prepare our team the right way and if you do that, it doesn’t matter who you play.”

The common opponents between the two schools are the likes of Toronto and Steubenville Catholic Central.

“We don’t know too much about them right now,” Myers admitted. “I know we’ve played some common opponents and played them to similar scores, so I feel like this will be a very tough game.”

The experience factor certainly lies in the Lady Irish corner. They’re making their second trip in three seasons to the small-school title game. They fell to Madonna in 2011.

“This is our third time in the tournament and third time in the finals,” Kapral said. “This is where we want to be. The semifinals were fun and it’s always nice to host one of those games. It’s nice to have the top seeds in there and now we’ve got a chance to win the OVAC.”

Conotton Valley, meanwhile, is making its initial appearance in the title game after it took out Trinity Christian in the semifinal on Wednesday night by a point.

For Myers, the OVAC – as a whole – is a new experience. She’s a Garaway High School graduate, who played collegiately at Ohio University, and is in her first year as head coach of the Lady Rockets.

“Anytime a team is playing for a championship, that’s where you want to be,” Myers said. “I don’t think people thought we’d do this well this year and our success is all because of the girls and how hard they’ve worked.”

While the conference may be new for Myers, she got introduced to it quickly when she sat down with her team shortly after getting hired last spring.

“I had each girl fill out a questionaire telling me about themselves and their goals,” Myers said. “Almost every goal listed the OVAC title as a goal. Now, they’re one step closer to achieving it, so we have to go out and play hard Saturday against a quality St. John team.”

In reaching the finals, the 15-6 Lady Irish dispatched the Lady Blue Dons to the consolation game by a 42-31 score in a game that the Green sprinted out to a 17-0 cushion.

The Lady Irish don’t hide from who they are. Kapral’s squad wants to get up and down and utilize full-court pressure to speed up the game from the outset.

“We have to do what we do best,” Kapral said. “Our meal ticket has become full-court pressure. I think our semifinal was the exclamation point of that since we got out and went up 17-0.”

The Lady Irish employ of a lineup of two seniors and three freshmen.

Senior Kristen Russell is the unquestioned leader, averaging nearly 17 points and 10 rebounds a game.

The other senior is Kaydie Coppa, who is one of those lock-down defenders that Kapral utilizes in the pressure game.

The balance of the starting lineup consists of ninth graders Marissa Rose, who runs the offense at the point-guard spot. She averages 13.3 points a game.

Pivot Lindsey Froehlich is rounding back into form after missing a couple of weeks with an injury. She had a big game against Madonna. The other defensive sparkplug is Jessica Alvey.

Sophomore Caitlin Sliva and frosh Emily LeMasters are the Lady Irish’s top two subs.

“I don’t know if three freshmen are supposed to be starting in the OVAC final, but having said that, those girls have really matured nicely throughout the course of the season,” Kapral said. “We’re young, but we’ve got a really nice blend because of those seniors we start.”

Conotton Valley, which doesn’t boast a senior on the roster, is led by Bower, who is averaging 15 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.

Junior forward Brynlynn Belknap is the second-leading scorer and rebounder with 10 points and six boards. Junior Piper Edie averages nearly 7 points a game, while sophomores Chandice Cottis (4.5 ppg) and Taylor Russell (4.5 ppg) round out the starting lineup.

“I think this game is going to come down to fundamentals and which team takes better care of the ball,” Myers said. “We need to continue to receive contributions from everyone on our team and that’s we got in the semifinal.”