By Ken Barhorst
As first-year Russia High School girls basketball coach Andy Timmerman said, “it’s a long season.”
And he’s like a lot of the other coaches, who welcome the start of tournament play as a way to get the excitement building again. And the girls teams in the county don’t have long to wait.
All nine of the girls teams in Shelby County will open sectional tournament play on Saturday.
There will be four games in the Division 4 Sectional at Sidney, and three of them will find county teams playing each other.
That includes No. 1 seed Jackson Center, the County champion, and No. 2 seed Russia.
Jackson Center has put together an outstanding season under first-year coach Jeff Reese, taking a 17-4 record into the tournament Saturday.
“It’s been a great year,” said Reese, who inherited a program that made it to the state semifinals last year with most of the girls who have won the last two state volleyball championships. “I knew there were endless possibilities with this team, but they also got a late start. And my two biggest concerns were a new coach, and conditioning. But the girls bought in right away to what I wanted, and we were gradually able to get in basketball condition.”
The Lady Tigers appear to have an excellent chance of getting out of the sectional again and playing for a district title. Their first two games come against teams that have a total of one win between them this season, and if the top four seeds all advance, it will be Jackson against Botkins, a team the Lady Tigers have beaten twice already.
“The draw was fantastic for us, but we’re preparing hard for every opponent,” said Reese, whose team plays Fairlawn in the tourney Saturday. “We know everybody is coming out for the same purpose and it’s exciting. You either show up and play or you go home for good. These girls, with the success they’ve had in volleyball, they know what it takes to be good and make a tournament run.”
Seven of his nine full-time players were members of the state championship volleyball team, and Reese said they all realize one thing — they are going to get everybody’s best shot.
Another first-year coach, Andy Timmerman, led his Russia Lady Raiders to a 17-5 record during the regular season, and now awaits sectional play as the No. 2 seed.
He has done an impressive job in his first seeason, with the Lady Raiders standing at 12-1 at one point this season. But he refuses to take the credit.
“We only graduated one player from last year and she didn’t start, so we had most of our core returning,” said Timmerman. “I can’t take much credit at all. The girls have worked so hard, and I have a couple of seniors in Tiffany Hatcher and Maria Herron who have been great leaders, and have really helped me out. They have led the team, they work hard and they get the other girls to work hard. So hats off to them and how hard they work night in and night out.”
The Lady Raiders will take on a 9-12 Lehman team in the first round, and Timmerman isn’t taking the Lady Cavs lightly.
“They play a zone and not a lot of teams have played that this year,” he said. “So it will definitely be a different look. It really doesn’t matter who we play, we know we have to focus and prepare for one team at a time. So things are more detailed in the scouting reports now.”
Russia is in the same bracket with league rival Fort Loramie, and owns two wins over the third-seeded Lady Redskins this season.
“I’m really looking forward to tournament play,” said Timmerman. “It’s kind of a refresher in that it’s a second season. It doesn’t matter how it’s gone up to this point. We felt good about the draw, but no matter where you’re at, you’re going to have to play tough teams. There were no surprises, so we have to go out and play.”
Fourth-seeded Botkins will open the sectional at 11 a.m. against Houston. And when Fort Loramie plays Riverside, it will be the third year in a row and the fifth time in the last six years the two have met in the sectional opener.
The Division 3 Sectional at Franklin-Monroe actually began Thursday night, with No. 2-seeded Versailles in action against Triad.
The tournament continues Saturday, and one of the games finds No. 8 seed Anna taking on No. 4 seed West Milton in the first round.
And in the D-1 Sectional at Vandalia, the No. 8-seeded Sidney Lady Jackets meet No. 10 seed Fairmont in first-round play.
Reach Ken Barhorst at 937-538-4818