United in ITCL dominance
HANOVERTON – Five straight league championships.
That was the goal from the onset of the season for the United girls basketball team.
With a 49-23 win over South Range on Thursday night that secured their fifth consecutive Inter-Tri County League upper tier championship, the Eagles checked that goal off of their list and added one more trophy to the collection.
“Everyone wanted to beat United,” senior Courtney Hydrick said. “But we practice hard and we play hard. We each put our share in and did what we needed to do to get to this point.”
United – winners of 30 straight league games – improves to 18-2 overall and 12-0 in the ITCL upper tier.
The Eagles led from horn to horn in a game that was never really in doubt. South Range (8-8, 8-4) entered the night suffering from a disappointing loss to Lisbon on Monday.
“We knew this was going to be a tough game and that South Range wasn’t the team that got beat by Lisbon the other night,” head coach Sam Mathias said. “We knew they were going to come out with a high energy level and I feel like we exceeded that energy level.”
Earning number five in front of a home crowd was something especially important to Mathias and his strong core of returning players. Becoming complacent was never an option as a challenge was posed each night they took the floor.
“It’s always a challenge because each team bring something different whether it’s zone or man-to-man,” Mathias said. “There are tall players and quick guards, so it’s always something different to prepare for each night. We knew we were going to take everybody’s best punch. We were excited for that challenge and we look forward to it every night.”
The Raiders were the last team to beat the Eagles. That was three seasons ago. With a perfect record this season, the girls from that team two seasons ago wanted no part of another loss coming at the hands of South Range.
“We talked about that before the game because the seniors this year were sophomores and they got the witness that their home floor,” Mathias said. “I asked them ‘How did you like it?’ They said they didn’t like it and I told them don’t let that feeling come back again here tonight.”
It didn’t as the girls raced out to an early lead and never looked back in savoring their last league championship as seniors.
“We wanted to win that ball and win the ITCL again and make it further than we ever have before,” Hydrick said. “Being our senior season, we just wanted to make it a season that we would remember.”
Year in and year out the bar at United is set high for its’ girls basketball program that is backed by a supportive community. But there’s no difference from one title to the next.
“They’re all great there hard to get to you have to have a lot of luck you have to have your shots fall,” Mathias said. “You have to stay away from injuries and sickness, so each one of them has a different feel to it. They are all great.”
“We know how to stay focused when we really want something we set goals,” Hydrick said. “We always meet those goals and we will do anything it takes to accomplish them.”
Hydrick and her fellow seniors, such as Emily Zehentbauer who had 11 points to lead the Eagles on Thursday, have been playing together since they were in fourth grade. The experience and growth they have gone through together has only strengthened their bond as teammates and enhanced their performance on the floor.
“We all work really well together, and we’re friends on the court and off the court,” Hydrick said. “That helps so much because we know what each other does and it helps us work together as a team.”
Hydrick missed all of last season while recovering from a knee injury. She tore her ACL against South Range her sophomore year and was forced to undergo surgery, the fourth she’s had. Hydrick opted not to play bastketball her junior year in order to recouperate and be ready for her senior year.
“It was rough with the surgeries, but I knew that I wanted to play with these girls because I have since for so long,” Hydrick said. “The girls were so supportive of me and I gelled right back in with them, never missed a beat.”
Smithville, the top ranked team in the Division III state poll, had representatives on hand to scout the Eagles on Thursday. The Smithies beat the Eagles in the regional semifinals last season.
S. RANGE: 3-3-7-10- 23
UNITED: 14-12-13-10- 49
SOUTH RANGE SCORING: Ashley Sharp 1-0-2, Morgan Czopur 0-1-1, Stevie Taylor 2-0-4, Lexi Naples 1-4-6, Starla Sharp 2-1-5, Sierra Patrella 1-1-3, Lynnie Ritter 1-0-2. TOTALS: 8, 7-12: 23
UNITED SCORING : Emily Zehentbauer 4-2-11, Sam Spitler 3-0-8, Tara Gray 1-3-6, MacKenzie Gatchel 4-0-8, Cassidy Yoder 4-1-9, Kenzie Firth 1-0-2, Mollie Phillis 1-0-2, Courtney Hydrick 1-1-3. TOTALS 19, 7-17: 49
Three-pointers: South Range 0, United 4 (Spitler 2, Zehentbauer, Gray).