When this season’s four seniors on the Western Reserve girls basketball team entered the program four years ago, the Roughriders were coming off a 1-20 season.
On Saturday, they walked off the court with the program’s second-ever Division III regional runners-up trophy, coming within a win of the state semifinals.
Western lost to state power Ottawa-Glandorf (25-2), 62-40, to end the season with a record of 23-4.
“A lot of leadership is graduating and wore the blue and white for the final time,” Western Reserve coach Brett Robson said. “They were a big part of the turnaround.”
During the 2014-15 season, Western was 3-18 when the senior group of Brookelyn Heisser, Andrea Robson, Brooke Ommert and Karagan Fannin were freshmen.
“We won just the one game the year before, and we had to throw them into the fire right out of the gate,” Brett Robson said. “And it wasn’t because they weren’t ready to play. But we knew then they were good players that were in a tough spot.”
Western jumped to 11-11 in 2015-16, then arrived in a big way last season with an 18-4 record while sharing the Firelands Conference title with St. Paul.
Add in this season’s district championship and outright FC title, and the ‘Riders went 41-8 over the past two seasons after the 15-49 stretch the previous three seasons.
“They needed to develop confidence and get experience,” Robson said. “They took those challenges head on and developed from there. They are the reason for the turnaround that culminated in (Saturday).”
Returning with much of its core from the 2016-17 season, the ‘Riders were heavy favorites in the FC and a top contender in the Shelby district — both which played out that way.
Western was never threatened in the FC, winning all 14 games to run away with the outright title. Voted as the No. 2 seed in the district behind Margaretta, which it had lost a late lead to in a 43-40 setback on the road in January, the two teams got the expected rematch on March 3.
But first, Western had to get by a Seneca East team that won 18 games, and did so with a 43-41 win. The ‘Riders then won the district title game with a thrilling double-overtime win over the Polar Bears, 44-40.
In the two head-to-head meetings, Western outscored Margaretta by an 84-83 margin over nine full quarters of action.
That led to last week’s regional tournament, where the ‘Riders found themselves down 26-17 with just under seven minutes left of Wednesday’s regional semifinal against Amanda-Clearcreek.
But the ‘Riders exploded for 17 points over the final 6:48 after scoring just 17 in the previous 25 minutes, outscoring the Aces by 13 down the stretch in a 34-30 win to reach Saturday’s Elite Eight game.
“One of the themes this year was being strong young women and being leaders — and they accomplished that,” Robson said. “They are strong kids who never backed away.
“They are feeling a bit down right now, but in the locker room just now they were putting their arms around each other and picking their friends up,” he added.
With the way the grade levels on the roster were spread out, Western finds itself on very solid footing moving forward. The cupboard will be far from bare, as key varsity players like Cora Wyers, Katie Hipp, Mckenna Woodruff, Emma Blankenship and Jenna Skrada all return.
And it doesn’t stop there, according to Brett Robson.
“We have an outstanding junior class, and a sophomore class coming up that had a very successful JV season,” he said. “And we have some good kids coming up from the middle school program. There is some talent coming back that will continue to develop ,and the younger girls saw the kids play in these games here this week.”
The coach said that may be the biggest takeaway from the two games at Lexington.
“The younger girls know now what it takes to get here and will want to come back, and I think that’s a huge advantage,” he said. “But these junior and senior classes are the ones who committed and showed what dedication and hard work is all about.
“They got the payoff to reach this far in the tournament, and now those younger kids have a whole new set of expectations,” Robson added. “The bar has been raised for them.”