Branch tops poll
BELOIT — The West Branch girls basketball team is doing something that hasn’t been done before in the program’s rich history.
The Warriors remained No. 1 in the final Associated Press Division II high school girls basketball poll released Monday after receiving 15 of 19 first-place votes.
“It means a lot,” West Branch coach Walt DeShields said. “There’s been a lot of hard work by the girls on the team and coaching staff and everyone involved in the program.”
West Branch, which won the Northeastern Buckeye Conference title for the third time in four years, is 21-0 on the season and has won 39 straight regular-season games.
“There’s a lot of talent on this team,” DeShields said. “It’s a talented team that works hard. As a coach, I’m proud of them for that. They want to be pushed and motivated of. Being a poll champion is a great honor for our program and our school. It’s just another thing we can add to great list of accomplishments at West Branch.”
West Branch will try to finish off a a third perfect regular season in school history when the Warriors host Lakeview on Wednesday. Lakeview’s lineup features Kent State University recruit Annie Pavlansky.
“We’ve been No. 1 most of the season and there are no guarantees,” DeShields said. “It brings a little more hype about it because we have a bull’s-eye on us. everyone wants to beat the No. 1 team in the state in the polls.”
West Branch is one of only five unbeaten state-ranked teams remaining and the only one left in Division II.
The highest the West Branch girls basketball team finished in the final state poll before was third — in 1996 and 2004, the year the Warriors won the Division II state title.
“Absolutely it could be a team that could go all the way, but there are some good teams in our way,” DeShields said. “They just want to prepare for each game. We’re not going to be perfect all the time, but we’re trying eliminate (mistakes) and play great defense. But West Branch has always been a great defensive team.
The Warriors are holding opponents to an average of 30.6 points a game and are eyeing the school record of 32.4 points set by the 2004 state championship team.
“If you’re a girl playing at West Branch, you better play defense or you’re not going to be there long,” DeShields said.
West Branch’s only other state poll championship came in volleyball in the late 1980s.
“They don’t care who gets the individual awards,” DeShields said. “It’s been a great team. We’ve have a lot of people being our leading scorer and rebounder. It’s been a lot of fun to coach. It would be even if we weren’t 21-0. It’s a group that gets along well and are easy to coach. They are motivated to get better every day in practice.”
West Branch will open sectional tournament action on Feb. 22 when the Warriors host the Lakeview-Ravenna Southeast winner.
“It’s going to be tough this year,” DeShields said. “Whether you’re undefeated or whether you lost just a couple, you have to play a better game each game you play or you’ll go home. It comes down to making plays and making those plays at the end of the game. There’s been a lot of great teams that didn’t make it out of district.
“You try not to look ahead. We’re just worried about trying to beat Lakeview on Wednesday night.”
Also in Division II, Gates Mills Gilmour (16-2) is ranked third and Zanesville Maysville (18-2) is eighth.
Maysville will host East Liverpool in a sectional opener on Feb. 21.
Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference champion Jackson-Milton (19-2) remained sixth in Division IV despite dropping a 36-23 decision at Columbiana on Thursday.
The Bluejays rebounded with a 52-39 win over Crestview on Monday. They will close out the regular season by hosting Springfield on Saturday afternoon.
Jackson-Milton begins sectional tournament play on Feb. 24 when the Bluejays host the Southern Local-Leetonia winner.
In the boys state poll, Poland (17-1) is ranked sixth in Division II, LaBrae (17-2) is fourth in Division III and McDonald (17-1) is second in Division IV.
McDonald, coming off a 92-70 win at Columbiana on Friday, will play at Sebring tonight.
Poland will be hosting Canfield on Friday night.