By Rob Kiser
Call Sports Editor
The tradition and team motto’s may be different.
But, there also plenty of similarities between the Versailles girls basketball team and its opponent in Friday’s D-III state semifinal at 3 p.m. at the Jerome Schottenstein Center — including good size and strong defense.
The Lady Tigers, 23-3, will be making their sixth state tournament appearance and fourth under coach Jacki Stonebraker, while the 22-3 Proctorville-Fairland Dragons are making their maiden voyage to the state tournament.
“It is our first time there in school history,” Procotrville-Fairland coach Jon Buchanan said. “Only the second team in school history. The boys team went in 1961. The biggest thing is experience. We were sitting at the same table for the state tournament meeting. Versailles was writing down a minimum of stuff and we were scrambling to take everything down. So, obviously they are much more comfortable in this situation. They have a great tradition. They excel in a lot of sports. Their fans are obviously used to this. That is why they play 32 minutes.”
While Versailles plays in what most consider the toughest small-school conference in the state (the Midwest Athletic Conference) and a very competitive non-conference schedule, it is a little different for the Lady Dragons.
The only Ohio team to beat them is Jackson, with losses to Huntington, W.V. and Boyd County, Ky., as well.
“Our conference ended being a little better than we thought it would be,” Buchanan said. ” We strengthened our schedule to help us get ready for what we would see at the regionals. We had two 20-0 seasons and found out that didn’t get us very far at regionals because we hadn’t seen any adversity. We played Hunting who is in the West Virginia AAA state tournament and Ashland who is in the Kentucky state tournament and Boyd County, who is another D-I Kentucky school. We have faced some really strong competition.”
Buchanan feels like the Dragons, who average 62.5 points and allow 41.6, have a lot of versatility.
“We are very quick at the guard position, as well as the forward position,” he said. “We have the anchor inside, but we have some girls that can shoot. So, I feel like we are very versatile on offense. We like to get after it on defense and use our quickness to create turnovers.”
That “anchor” is 6-foot-4 senior Terra Stapleton, who averages 17.8 points and 8.9 rebounds.
“Terra is going to play for the University of Michican,” Buchanan said. “She is an anchor type center. She plays mostly from 15-feet and in.”
Kelsey Riley, a 5-9 junior forward and 5-6 senior guard Chandler Fulks both average more than 10 points per game.
“Kelsey is a very good defensive player, but she is also a very good offensive player who can handle the ball and other team’s pressure,” Buchanan said. “Chandler is someone who can play anywhere on the perimeter. She is a 4-year starter. This is obviously a very talented senior group with 68 wins the last three years. She could go over 1,000 points this weekend.”
Rounding out the starting lineup is 5-4 junior guard Caitlin Stone, who averages 9.7 points and 5-7 sophomore Taylor Perry.
“Caitlin is very fast and athletic,” Buchanan said. “She makes a lot of plays on the defensive end, but she is more than just a defender. She can handle the ball. Taylor is a very underrated player offensively. She is one of our top defenders. She is all over you like a little gnat, but she can also shoot the ball.”
Leading the bench are 5-11 junior Mackenzie Riley and 5-9 junior Jenna Fulks,
“Mackenzie is as good as any sixth girl in the state,” Buchanan said. “They all bring a lot of energy off the bench.”
And the Dragons will have another asset with them in the locker room.
“We actually bring a rock with us to the locker room,” Buchanan said. “We all hit it. Our motto is pound the rock. It is a motto we have had all season. If we stay after it, the rock is eventually going to split.”
The Lady Tigers are coming off a domination of Greeneview and Southwest District D-III Player of the Year Ashley Lovely in the regional final.
“The first half against Greeneview was one of the best halves of basketball we have played all year, both offensively and defensively,” Stonebraker said. “We were focused on not letting the Lovely girl hurt us from outside and rebounding aggressively and limiting her to one shot.”
Now the Lady Tigers are where they hoped the season would end — at the state tournament.
“This is a season where we had high expectations,” Stonebraker said. “We have nine seniors. They were split up the last couple years between varsity, JV and freshman and they have all kind of come back together this year.”
The Lady Tigers do it with balance — with no starter averaging in double figures.
“In the past, we have had a couple big studs (when they have gotten to state),” Stonebraker said. “This team is a little bit different. I would say we are very team oriented on offense. We have one girl averaging in double figures and she scores 10. We have lot of girls at six, seven or eight. On defense, we are predominantly a man defense and we want to finish every possession both on offense and defense with a rebound.”
The balance presents a challenge Stonebraker is happy to have.
“It makes things difficult because a lot of times I don’t know until the second quarter who is on and who isn’t,” Stonebraker said. “But, I also think it makes us hard to scout, because we never know where the points are coming from. We have used at least four different starting lineups.”
The Lady Tigers are even stingier on defense, scoring 54 points and allowing just 36.7.
Starting for the Tigers inside are 6-2 junior Christa Puthoff, who leads the starters at 9.6 points per game and 5-10 senior Emily Harman.
“Emily Harman just finds a way to get it done,” Stonebraker said. “Defensively, she can shut you down. Offensively, most of her points are just hustle points. She is very aggressive on both ends of the floor. Christa Puthoff is another strong post player. She is a very solid defender and very good offensively inside.”
The guards include 5-6 senior Brooke Pothast, 5-9 senior Amanda Winner and 6-1 junior Lauren Bruns.
“Amanda Winner and Brooke Pothast are two very athletic guards that start for us,” Stonebraker said. “Amanda has a good jump shot and can get to the basket. Lauren Bruns is a tall, lanky guard with long arms. She is very effective in our 1-2-2 half-court defense. She can shoot the three and drive.”
Other key players include 5-8 senior Rachel Kremer, 5-9 senior Chloe Warvel and 6-0 senior Katie Heckman.
“Rachel Kremer has started for us this year and is a good 3-point shooter,” Stonebraker said. Chloe Warvel missed all last season with a torn ACL and tore her meniscus in the pre-season. She was our starting point guard as a sophomore. We just got her back late in the season and she is coming along. Katie Heckman is another post player that can rebound and score for us.”
The Lady Tigers motto is a little more high tech — #HNR.
“That stands for Have No regrets,” Stonebraker said. “That is because we have nine seniors and we are not going to leave anything on the floor. That has been our motto all season.”
And one they plan to continue for two more games.