RAVENNA - District finals can affect the nerves, and Saturday afternoon at Ravenna's James L. Coll Gymnasium, both Pymatuning Valley and Hawken coaches admitted that it played a role with their teams.
The Lakers were able to eventually push those troubles aside, however, en route to a 42-32 win over Hawken. The win marked the first district title in the history of the PV girls' program.
"It feels great," PV coach Jeff Compan said. "These girls have worked hard to put themselves in this position, and I couldn't be prouder. We struggled for a long time today during this game, and we finally got the nerves done late in that game and we relaxed a little bit. So I'm very proud of these young ladies."
Senior Geena Gabriel, who went past the 1,000-point mark for her career during the fourth quarter, began her comments about winning the district by echoing her coach.
"It feels great," she said. "Ever since my freshman year, we always got kicked out (of the tournament) a little earlier than we should have. This year, it's my last year, so I thought we might as well go out strong and keep playing our hearts out."
"It's pretty amazing for us to be the first team (in school history to win a district title) and to try to keep going as far as we can," said junior post Megan Stech, who had a 9-point, 17-rebound, 5-steal, 3-block performance, said.
The one thing that consistently shone brightly for the Lakers was their defense. They continually made it hard for the Hawks to score, holding them to 12-of-55 shooting (21.8 percent) despite the fact they made three of their final six attempts.
"Our defense was pretty strong," Stech said. "We were trying to keep them contained."
The Lakers, undefeated at 25-0 and ranked first in the final Ohio AP Division III rankings, had defeated Hawken 61-26 on Nov. 30, but if any of the many vocal PV fans who attended the game expected something similar, they were in for a surprise. PV did lead for most of the way, but had a very difficult time shaking the fifth-seeded Hawks (16-9).
"I think the weight of the situation, and Geena was trying to get to 1,000 points (affected our nerves)," Compan said. "We missed a lot of shots that we normally don't miss. Give them credit, though. They battled us and banged us and made it tough for us."
Gabriel had 15 points, while Kelsea Brown had 11 points and eight rebounds.
Hannah O'Day led the Hawks with 13 points, including eight of the 10 they scored in the final stanza, and also pulled down nine rebounds. Teammate Lindsey Kutash matched O'Day with nine boards and blocked two shots, while Alyssa Huot had six rebounds and three blocks, Emma Whiting six rebounds and Emily Oliver four steals for Hawken.
The Hawks won the battle of the boards 45-40, establishing the advantage in the first half.
"We really wanted to box out, and I thought that Hawken did a great job of pounding the glass against us," Compan said. "And I thought that was really big in keeping them in the game. They got extra shots, they got extra opportunities and I give them credit - they played very hard. But when we needed it, we got to the hoop. So I was really happy with (the fact that) it seemed like we never got too anxious or too caught up in the moment. So I was really proud of our girls for hanging tough when it wasn't going well for us today."
"It was tons of fun today," Hace said. "I think the kids played extremely hard to get to this point. They deserved and earned every moment of it, and I think it showed (in) great intensity coming into this game.
"Sticking with a team that's completely undefeated, there's something to be said for the character of the kids that we have. So (I'm) super proud of them."
The top-seeded Lakers advanced to a regional semifinal matchup with Beachwood, winners over Gilmour Academy in the North Ridgeville district. That game will take place at Cuyahoga Falls High School on Wednesday at 8 p.m.