VERSAILLES – Versailles is accustomed to playing in big games, and the Lady Tigers hope that experience will give them an edge at this week’s Ohio High School Athletic Association state final four.
Three of the Tigers – Kami McEldowney, Camille Watren and Danielle Winner – played in the Versailles girls basketball team’s 2015 state championship victory. A fourth starter, Ellen Peters, has competed at the state track and field meet.
“Absolutely it helps,” Versailles girls basketball coach Jacki Stonebraker said. “I always say success breeds success. And when the girls have that kind of pressure on them they know how to act, they know how to react, and that’s what’s been so beneficial for us these past couple years. It’s not only an expectation, but when we get there it’s a job, it’s an opportunity to play at the next level.”
Versailles’ only starter who hasn’t competed at a state tournament is Elizabeth Ording, but even she has experienced the atmosphere of state games firsthand as a spectator.
“The last time they went to state I always wanted myself to be in their shoes, and now that I’m here I think it’s very exciting,” the Versailles sophomore said.
Versailles’ entire roster is filled with girls who have been to state competitions as either athletes or fans. Having been in those high-pressure situations before should be an advantage to the Tigers.
“I think the confidence is the biggest thing,” Peters said. “You’re not nervous when you go into the game. You’re used to the crowds. You’re used to the extra fans being there and the extra noise, the light being on you. It’s really reassuring that you’ve been there before.”
Versailles’ opponent in the state semifinals, Winchester Eastern, doesn’t have as much state tournament experience. The Warriors’ girls basketball program last reached the state final four in 2002.
But Versailles isn’t taking Eastern lightly.
“Eastern is a great team,” Stonebraker said. “They’re a lot like us, I feel. They’re bigger than us, but they’re a lot like us and a lot like the teams we play in the (Midwest Athletic Conference). They’re going to be a tough challenge for us.”
Eastern, which has only lost once this season, features a trio of girls who are 6 feet or taller – 6-foot-1 junior Allison Day, 6-foot sophomore Alexa Pennington and 6-foot junior Mikayla Farris – all of whom average 10 points or more a game.
“It will be a great challenge and a lot of fun,” Versailles’ 6-foot 2 inch Danielle Winner said.
It was Versailles that had a big size advantage over Summit Country Day in the regional final with Ording, Danielle Winner and Lindsey Winner. However, because the Tigers won’t tower over Eastern like they did Summit they’ll need their guards to step up, Stonebraker said.
“Our guards are going to have to play,” she said. “Our guards are going to have to defend. Hopefully get some easy put-backs. We did rebound the ball pretty well against Summit. Our guards rebounded really well against Summit. That tells me that they are going for the offensive and defensive rebounds so hopefully we can sneak in there. I know they’re bigger, but hopefully we can sneak in there and out-quick them.”
Versailles will get its chance to see how it matches up with Eastern at 3 p.m. Friday at The Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
“It’s very exciting to play on such a big floor where a lot of superstars in the sports world have played,” Peters said of playing at Ohio State.
The winner of Friday’s semifinal will advance to Saturday’s state championship game against either defending state champion Columbus Africentric or 2016 state final four team Gates Mill Gilmour Academy.
“It will help out a lot,” Danielle Winner said of her experience playing in the state final four. “It’s really different playing in the Schott than any other gym, and it’s something you’ve just got to get used to.”
Whichever sport they’re playing, Versailles has girls who know how to win, and they’re hoping to pick up a couple more victories this week in Columbus.
“These girls know how to win,” Stonebraker said. “They know how to win in tournament, and they keep playing their best ball.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.