A tournament run cut short

By: 
Seth Kinker
Sports Editor

*This article was updated on Mar. 26 with the OHSAA announcement that winter sport tournaments would be canceled due to COVID-19. 

Girls basketball is a big deal around here. Proven again this year as Minster and Fort Loramie, two communities less than five miles apart, were two of the last four Division IV teams remaining in the state title hunt. 
 
Yes, Minster had proved dominant the past two years, exerting their state-championship muscle and pedigree.
 
Yes, the defending State Champion Wildcat girls basketball team again muscled and clawed their way through the state tournament jungle leading back to Columbus for a third straight year.
 
For Fort Loramie, any familial get-togethers aside, this cake has been baking the last three years, and Coach Carla Siegel’s young proteges have been perfecting the recipe for just desserts, especially given the tastes tested their last two season-ending experiences. 
 
On Mar. 7, the Minster girls defeated Wayne Trace (65-30) for their regional title while Fort Loramie took down Cincinnati Country Day (50-34) for theirs. Less than a week later, COVID-19 had effectively put the world on pause and ongoing winter sport prep tournaments were postponed indefinitely.
 
 
“We are just devastated that the tournaments cannot be completed,” said Ohio High School Athletic Assocation Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass in the Mar. 26 release. “But our priority is the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, communities and officials. Governor Mike DeWine is asking all Ohioans to do everything they can to stop the spread of this virus. That request, along with our schools not being able to reopen for weeks, means that school sports cannot happen at this time. Even if our schools reopen this spring, it will be difficult to find facilities willing to host the tournaments. Most campuses are shut down until mid to late summer.
 
As of Mar. 26 per the release, spring prep sports remain up in the air which coincides with schools still being closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
 
There are plans in place that would allow for practices before any competitions could begin with spring tournament dates remaining the same. But that could all change if the Governor decides to close schools for a longer period of time, something that has been discussed.
 
For the seven seniors on those two teams, Lauren Mox, Mara Schmeising and Averi Wolf from Minster and Kennedi Gephart, Macy Imwalle, Taylor Ratermann and Marissa Meiring from Fort Loramie, this was more than just a season coming to an early end. It was their last go round at a state title run. 
 
Something to prove 
 
For the Minster seniors, it was their chance to show that they could lead a team back title game after losing seven seniors and a bulk of the teams experience from the two previous, and consecutive, state titles. 
 
Mox, Schmeising and Wolf have played together since eighth grade and despite being a part of the last two state title teams, they did so with roles on the team that supplemented the experience and talent of older players. 
 
Sophomore year, Mox and Schmeising were “white warriors” or the scout team while Wolf had a jersey but was similarly on the scout team. 
 
“We didn’t get jerseys but we practiced with the team,” said Mox. “It was really cool to be able to help them. We got to see from the inside how much work goes into winning a state title. It’s tough.”
 
“We helped the starters and those who played,” added Wolf. “(We) worked our absolute hardest against them so they knew what was coming in the game.” 
 
None of the those three had extensive experience being a leader but knew they would have to step into that role this year.
 
Wolf, who also plays volleyball, said that helped her transition as a leader for basketball having been in that role in the fall. 
 
“The last two years everything kind of came easy for us,” said Wolf. “You come in, everyone knows the plays, everyone knows the drills. It was just a whole different mindset coming in (this year).” 
 
After losing in the regional finals the past two years, the Fort Loramie girls steamrolled through virtually every opponent this year and were in a prime position to claim anther state title, which would have been the first for the four seniors. 
 
Imwalle, Ratermann, Gephart and Meiring have been playing together since the youth fundamental days. Before AAU rules changed limiting the number of people you could have on one team from one school, they all played AAU together too. 
 
All four have played varsity basketball since their freshman year. With no sophomores in the class above them, some of it was out of necessity, but it definitely got them used to expectations from head coach Carla Siegel.  
 
“Freshman year we were thrown into the fire,” said Gephart. “Yeah, we knew what basketball was, but not varsity basketball under coach Siegel. Those were two different things.” 
 
After progressively improving each year, from 16-9 to 22-6 to 26-2 to 26-0 this year before the postponements, the four Loramie seniors have seen their roles change off and on the court for the program. 
 
“We've seen each other take on leadership roles, player roles, energy giver roles, things like that,” said Meiring. “You’ve been able to see us evolve from freshman year, in every aspect, not just skills wise.” 
 
After losing to Minster for the second year in a row in the regional finals last year, junior varsity head coach and varsity assistant Phil Barhorst recalled a moment from Gephart in the post-game locker room. 
 
“After the regional final game last year,” said Barhorst earlier this season. “I remember (Gephart) saying, you could have heard a pin drop, ‘don’t any of you ever forget this feeling,’ I think they took that to heart, that was part of their drive.” 
 
“I do remember the locker room last year,” said Gephart. “I don’t know who it was, but they asked if the captains had anything to say. It’s a terrible feeling losing to the same team two years in a row and not get a chance to play at state. After the (regional) win this year, he said, 'it’s the exact same thing, don’t ever forget this feeling, what this feels like. This kind of success.’” 
 
From limitations to postponements 
 
On Mar. 10, the rulings came down from the OHSAA that limited spectators would be allowed at the remaining winter sport tournaments. 
 
If you’ve been to a local gym during basketball season then you know that these communities show out to cheer for their teams. Once hearing from their respective coaches, the girls were of course upset. 
 
“Mentally I was torn apart, “ said Schmeising when being told on Mar. 10 after practice. “My first instinct was to throw the ball across the gym.”
 
“Of course, us three (seniors) had been to state with the team,” said Schmeising. “but we felt this year was our chance to play and compete. We were really excited about that; it was really hard to hear our families couldn’t be there and actually watch us play.” 
 
“I was a water girl in 2013,” said Imwalle, who experienced the state tournament atmosphere with an older sister on the 2013, 2014 state tournament teams. “Ever since then, being that water girl, I've dreamed of that (environment). For it to be taken away, it was hard. You wanted your family to watch and support you.” 
 
“I had to keep my emotions under control. Especially being a senior,” said Wolf. “It was very disappointing hearing that all of those that supported you throughout the season, even when you were at your lowest, they couldn’t see you at your best.” 
 
Over those next two days things escalated very quickly and by the time the announcement came that the OHSAA was suspending post season play on Mar. 12, both Minster and Loramie had already been sent off by their communities to Columbus. 
 
Minster found out on the bus shortly before reaching Jackson Center and Fort Loramie was told shortly after a team meal. Understandably, the seniors were taken aback by the decision that could’ve ended their playing careers. 
 
“We just broke down,” said Wolf. “We were just so hyped up at the clap out, ‘alright this is our moment, we can do this.’ And just to see it fade away was heart breaking.” 
 
“I think the worst part is we all love each other so much and we knew we wouldn’t be able to play with each other eve again,” said Mox. “That was the hardest part for me.” 
 
“When we all found out we were just kind of stunned,” said Ratermann. “We originally thought no spectators was bad but when we found out we couldn’t play at all, that was way worse. For us, not having any closure, not knowing, all the what ifs of what we could have done… that was a very hard pill to swallow.”
 
Both teams spent the remainder of that day with each other. Tears, food and camaraderie were common themes. 
 
After arriving back home, the Minster girls went to assistant head coach Nann Stechschulte’s house to spend time together while watching the governor’s speech before going bowling later in the evening with their families and a sleepover at another teammates house. 
 
The Loramie girls went hot tubbing before spending the night at a teammates. 
 
“Overall it was laughs and smiles, there was a couple times (it was sad),” said Gephart. “Being together and going through it together was just so much easier. It was nice to hang out with the team.”
 
“We just all wanted to be together and when we were it felt normal,” added Ratermann. “it didn’t really feel like it was cancelled. It was like, ‘oh we’ll play the game tomorrow.’” 
 
What could have been 
 
In the Minster group chat, ten minutes before tip-off at what would have been a state final game, they counted down the time before talking about how they’d be clapping into their pre-game huddle as the pre-game buzzer sounded. 
 
“After that regional game, I know for me, it was like, ‘ok I still get to play with them again, I still get to put  on my jersey one last time,” said Wolf. “You just don’t realize this is your last for everything. I definitely took that for granted, it hit me like a truck I wouldn’t play with them again.” 
 
“It was emotional because no one really believed in us,” said Mox. “'Oh, you lost Courtney Prenger, you lost all these people,’ I just think it would’ve meant more to us as seniors to get there and be like, ‘yeah this is Minster, this is who we are.’” 
 
“Even if we didn’t win, all I wanted to do was play and compete one more time,” said Schmeising. 
 
“Us seniors having no idea that we already played our last game a week ago and you find out you don’t have one more game, it’s just disappointing,” said Gephart. “In that moment, it was like, ‘why us?’ Two years we could’ve been in this position and now that it’s finally here and postponed? It was just…” 
 
“It’s weird because whenever you lose, not saying you put yourself there but it’s ultimately what you earned,” said Meiring. “We won regionals and were expected to play at state so it being cancelled or postponed indefinitely, feels like got it taken away from us not that we put ourselves there.” 
 
 “When we would just all be on fire and everyone is making their shots and the bench is getting fired up and the other team calls a timeout and we just get hype running into the huddle,” said Gephart. “I don’t know if anything like that in my future will ever match that feeling.” 
 
“I think we’ll all miss putting on the uniform and playing on our home court and the entire Loramie community being there,” said Ratermann. “It’s something I can’t even describe.”
 
“I always knew when I got in the gym nothing else mattered,” said Wolf. “I knew that when I was with my team and playing the game I loved, nothing else really mattered. That’s what I’ll miss.” 

Check back on the website later this week for extended quotes that couldn't make the article.