By Timothy L. Hudak
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
The first basketball tournament for girls was held in 1976, but the history of girls interscholastic basketball in Ohio begins long before that. Ohio’s high school girls have been playing organized basketball since at least the early 1920s. However, it was a major question of that day as to whether or not any kind of interscholastic athletic activity was good for our young ladies. Some saw it as simply unlady-like. Others had a sincere fear for the safety of the girls.
In 1937 the OHSAA sent out a questionnaire to its member schools, part of which dealt with the participation of girls in interscholastic basketball. As regards to both interscholastic and intramural basketball for girls, 563 schools (55%) said that they did provide this activity for their girl students. However, when asked “Do you favor dropping girls’ basketball as an interscholastic sport?” just over half of the schools, 519, responded that they were in favor of discontinuing this activity. In September of 1939 a referendum was submitted to the schools to decide whether or not basketball would be continued as a girls sport. By a margin of 2-1, the voting schools opted to discontinue interscholastic basketball for girls as of September 1, 1940. This, in turn, led to the discontinuation of all interscholastic athletics for girls in Ohio.
It would be another 25 years before interscholastic athletics for girls would begin their return, and 10 years beyond that before the girls would start getting their own state tournaments. (Oddly enough, there are now a total of 22 state tournaments, 11 for the boys and 11 for the girls.)
When the OHSAA girls basketball tournament began, the schools were divided into three classes, AAA-AA-A, with AAA representing the schools with the largest population of girls, down to A, those with the smallest. In 1988 the classification was renamed “Division,” and was further divided into four categories, with Division I being for the largest schools, down to Division IV for the smallest. Except for 1986, the tournament has always been held in Columbus, at either St. John Arena or the Schottenstein Center. In 1986 it was held at Rhodes Arena in Akron.
Like the tournament for boys basketball, every school is entered in the girls tournament. Technically speaking, however, when speaking of the girls basketball “tournament,” one is referring to the Final Four, i.e., the state semi-final and final rounds.
If you like variety in your champions, then the girls basketball tournament may just be your cup of tea. In the 32 years of the tournament, only three schools have won the state championship five times or more. Only 10 have won a title three times, while 60 schools have one or two championships. As a result only a few can claim to have truly dominated their class/division for any length of time, thus opening the door to new champions most of the time.
In the first eight years of the tournament the championships were spread out among a good number of schools, although several were able to claim multiple titles. The first school to repeat as a state champion was Columbus Bishop Hartley in Class AA. The Hawks won the first AA championship in 1976, then came back to win it all again in 1978. The next season the Hawks also made it to the finals, but lost a heartbreaker, 57-53, to an undefeated Delphos St. John’s (26-0) team.
Another two-time winner in the early days was Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in Class AAA, which won back-to-back championships in 1979 and 1980. Zanesville’s Bishop Rosecrans also won back to back titles in 1982-83.
While Delphos St. John’s won the Division IV championship in 2002, the Blue Jays enjoyed most of their success during the tournament’s earliest days, when they became the first school to win more than three state titles in girls basketball. As already mentioned, they won the Class AA title in 1979. Like Akron SV-SM, the Blue Jays also posted back-to-back titles when they added the championship in 1980. In both 1983 and 1984 St. John’s, now playing in Class A, lost in the semi-finals, but came back to capture their fourth championship in 1987, still in Class A. (The team’s championship in 2002 is their fifth.)
The first of the truly great girls basketball teams, however, has to be the team that represented West Holmes High School of Millersburg in Class AA from 1984 to 1986. Up until 1984 the Knights had never advanced to the state tourney, but that year it all came together in a very dramatic change for the better.
Under the direction of head coach Jack Van Reeth, the girls went through their 1984 season undefeated, posting a record of 26-0 as they began play in the Final Four. In the Class AA semi-final round, the Knights defeated Marion River Valley, 54-51, setting up a championship game with Orrville, which entered the finals with a record of 23-4. Adding even more excitement to the game was the fact that West Holmes and Orrville were also conference rivals. West Holmes had won both games between the two schools during the regular season, but this final game would be one where previous records did not count. It was now a one game season, winner take all.
That championship game would be one for the ages, or, as girls high school basketball expert John Feasel rated it in the OHSAA’s girls basketball 25th anniversary program, one of the all-time great girls Final Four games. It was an incredible contest, with numerous lead changes and ties. After three quarters the Red Riders of Orrville held a three-point advantage, but the Knights outscored them 6-3 in the fourth quarter to force overtime. In a very dramatic extra period, Orrville was clinging to a 35-34 lead late in the OT when the Knights’ Lisa Cline, who led all scorers that evening with 24 points, hit a shot from the foul line to give West Holmes the lead, and shortly thereafter the victory, 36-35.
The Knights finished the 1983-84 season as the Class AA state champions with a perfect 28-0 record. They would repeat that perfection the next season, and make it a three-peat in the 1985-86 season, winning three straight AA championships while going undefeated all three seasons. During the 1986-87 campaign the Knights would win their first 24 games to run their state record (boys or girls) winning streak to 108 games – a record that still stands.
While the girls from West Holmes were in the middle of their incredible run of success in Class AA, a Class AAA school was giving everyone a taste of things to come. In 1985, Pickerington High School (now Pickerington Central High School) matched West Holmes win for win as the Tigers also went 28-0 to capture their first Class AAA state title in their first trip to the tournament. Unlike West Holmes, however, it would take the Tigers five more years to again reach the Final Four, but before they were done coach Dave Butcher’s team would collect more state basketball championship trophies than any other team in the state, boys or girls, except the great Middletown boys teams of 1944-1957.
In 1990, now playing in Division I, Pickerington was back in the Final Four, but it would take a semi-final effort worthy of John Feasel’s all-time tournament Top Ten to get the Tigers into the finals. Facing defending state champion GlenOak, the Panthers were down by as many as 17 points in the third quarter before starting an amazing comeback. In a finish worthy of a Hollywood script, with the score tied late in the fourth quarter Pickerington held the ball for the final 1:25. When the clock had ticked down to just a couple of seconds remaining, the Tigers’ Susie Cassell passed the ball to Michelle Shade. Shade’s shot was still in the air as the final buzzer sounded. When the ball sailed through the hoop and the net Pickerington had won the state championship, 47-45. Incredibly, it was Pickerington’s only lead of the game.
The very next year, 1991, Pickerington would find itself on the other end of a buzzer beater when a three-pointer by Celina High School beat them in the regional finals, 48-46. However, the Tigers would be back in the tournament in all but one of the next eight years. In 1992 the Tigers met Logan High School in the championship game. That game was played before a record crowd of 12,385, with most of the seating area turned into a sea of purple, the school color of both teams. In spite of 24 points by Logan’s Katie Smith, Pickerington grabbed its third state title, 53-46.
The Tigers went undefeated in 1993, posting a 28-0 mark on the way to a second consecutive championship. The following year the Tigers were again undefeated as they entered the championship game against Trinity High School of Garfield Heights. Unfortunately for Dave Butcher’s team, they had the misfortune of coming up against one of Ohio’s all-time greats in Trojans’ guard Sameka Randall, at the time only a freshman. Rookie or not, Randall’s team-high 17 points led the way as the Trojans halted Pickerington’s win streak at 74 with a 59-54 victory. (It would be Garfield Heights’ only Division I title, but not their last state championship, as they would win the Division II championship in 1996, the teams’ third state title overall.)
Over the next three seasons Pickerington advanced to the tournament twice, but was unable to make it to the finals. That would all change in 1998 and 1999. In 1998 the Tigers would win the Division I title with a record of 26-2. That championship would also earn them some national recognition, as Pickerington finished tenth in the national polls. In 1999 the Tigers handed Mason High School (26-1) its only loss of the season in the championship game, 44-27. This time the Tigers were good enough to not only win the Division I title in Ohio, but they were also named the national champions by USA Today. Mason was not far off the pace in the national rankings, coming in at #3
In 2000 Pickerington and Mason again met in the Division I championship game. This time it would be the Comets’ turn, as they defeated the Tigers in a low scoring game, 36-25. The loss knocked Pickerington out of the national rankings for only the second time in the last 11 seasons, but earned for Mason the #2 ranking in the country.
While the girls basketball tournament has been pretty good about “sharing the wealth” as far as state championships go, two schools have managed to be exceptions to this rule over the last half dozen or so years.
The first of these is Chaminade-Julienne High School of Dayton. In 1998 the Eagles made their debut in the state tournament, losing in the Division I finals to Pickerington. The next year, now playing in Division II, Chaminade-Julienne defeated Lima Bath, 42-34, to earn the Eagles’ first state title.
The Eagles did not qualify for the Final Four in 2000, but over the following five seasons they would advance to the championship game four more times. In 2001, the Eagles played for the Division I state title, but had the misfortune of going up against the buzz-saw known as the Beavercreek Beavers. The Beavers, a nationally ranked team, would complete a perfect season (28-0) by defeating Chaminade-Julienne, 42-35. The next year the Eagles did not make it to the Final Four, but in 2003 they were back in the championship game, this time in Division II. The Eagles would take care of business, knocking off Cleveland’s Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School by a score of 60-46.
Returning to Division I in 2004, the Eagles would find themselves playing Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame in both 2004 and 2005 for the D-I title. Both teams entered the 2004 championship game undefeated. This time it would be the Cougars of Mt. Notre Dame (28-0) going home with the championship hardware after handing Chaminade-Julienne (26-1) a 59-44 defeat. As they say, turn about is fair play, and in 2005 the Eagles did just that in defeating the Cougars, 49-38, to earn their third state championship. (In the 2006 tournament, Mt. Notre Dame would make its third consecutive appearance in the Division I finals, and would win its second state championship by defeating Solon’s Comets, 56-36.)
The second of the teams to be our exception to the rule is Regina High School of South Euclid. From 2000, their first trip ever to the tournament, to 2005, the Royals, under the direction of coach Pat Diulus, have practically had a strangle hold on the Division III state title. In 2000 they easily defeated Bluffton High School, 56-35, to capture their first state championship. The next year it was more of the same as the Royals outscored Sardinia Eastern, 49-37, for another championship. Going for the hat trick in 2002, the Royals handed Archbold a 62-54 defeat to record championship #3.
The 2003 Division III championship game would prove to be a record setter for Regina. The Royals cruised to a 65-35 victory over Chillicothe Huntington, their 30-point margin of victory a Division III championship game record, and the second largest in the history of the girls tournament. The 2003 championship was also Regina’s fourth title in a row, a first for any team in the state, boys or girls.
The Royals got shut out of the Division III tournament in 2004, but returned in 2005 to capture their fifth title in six seasons in record fashion. In the semi-finals they defeated Ironton by a score of 76-26, the largest margin of victory in a Final Four game in any division in the tournament’s history. In their 70-45 victory over Patrick Henry High School in the championship game, the Royals scored 27 points in the first quarter, a record for any quarter in a Division III state title game. In their seven tournament games the Royals overwhelmed their opponents by an average of 41.1 points per game. Although coach Pat Diulus says that margins of victory “mean nothing,” at least in this instance it shows just how dominating the Royals were. Makes you wonder how they managed to suffer three losses during the regular season.
The Royals did not qualify for the 2006 tournament, but you can be certain that they will be factor in the Division III title chase as long as Pat Diulus is coaching the Royals.
Although Ohio has been playing for state girls high school basketball championships since 1976, and USA Today has been naming national champions since 1982, overall record keeping for the sport at the high school level has not been what it probably should have been. Only in the last 10-15 years has there been anything like a serious effort to address this situation, at either the state or national level. Unfortunately, for those interested in such things as the history of high school sports in general, this seems to be the case for every high school sport, boys or girls, with the possible exception of football. And, not to be chauvinistic, but the young ladies seem to get the short end of an already short stick. For example, this year will mark the 30th annual McDonalds boys All-American basketball game, while the girls will only be playing in their seventh such game.
Be that as it may, it is still possible to dig into the available resources to recognize some of those players, coaches and teams that have had an impact, not only on Ohio girls basketball, but also at the national level. The previous article dealt mainly with some of the teams that have had outstanding success in Ohio girls hoops. This article will further relate the accomplishments of some of the teams, while also focusing on players and coaches who, through their ability and accomplishments, have been examples of the best of Ohio high school girls basketball. In the limited space that this forum provides, it is almost a certainty that deserving people and/or accomplishments will be overlooked. This is by no means meant to lessen those contributions, but merely a reflection of the limited space available. To those individuals and teams who may have been overlooked we apologize, while still acknowledging their outstanding efforts and contributions.
In longevity and total victories, the honor of being Ohio’s most successful girls basketball coach belongs to Karen Wittrock. Karen has been the only coach at Lutheran West High School in Rocky River since the girls team was formed some 39 years ago. In that time she has led the Longhorns to 639 victories, ranking the Longhorns #2 in the state in total victories. This puts Ms. Wittrock at the top of the victory column in Ohio girls basketball, and among the nation’s top ten active girls coaches.
In 1976, the first year of the state girls tournament, the Longhorns advanced to the Class A finals, only to lose a thriller to Frankfort Adena High School, 37-35. In spite of her great success at the school, that is the only time that Ms. Wittrock’s Longhorns have been able to break into the Final Four. However, this by no means detracts from the team’s success on the hardwood. Beginning in the days when her team had to practice in the school hallways or at a gym outside the school, lucky to use their own gym once a week (the boys had it the other times), under coach Wittrock’s direction the Longhorns have won 20 conference championships and 22 sectional titles, as well as seven district and one regional championship.
On a personal level, Karen Wittrock has been named Ohio “Coach of the Year” four times, National Outstanding Coach of the Year by the National Women’s Sports Foundation, and is enshrined in three Halls of Fame. Included in this is the honor of being a charter member of the new Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame, the only woman, and one of only three high school coaches, so honored.
Dave Butcher has been head coach of the Pickerington Tigers (and Pickerington North Panthers since that school opened in 2003) girls basketball team since the 1983-1984 season. His accomplishments over the last 24 seasons will forever enshrine his name, and that of his Tigers, in the Ohio girls basketball record book. For openers, his 539 wins (as of the 2005-2006 season), against just 51 defeats, ranks Dave Butcher among the top half-dozen winningest girls coaches in the state. His winning percentage of .913 is currently the all-time best in the country for girls coaches with a minimum of 500 victories.
In 1985, in only his second season as the Tigers’ head coach, Dave Butcher led his team to a thrilling Class AAA championship game victory, defeating Dresden Tri-Valley, 58-55, in overtime. The Tigers would go on to appear in eight additional Class AAA-Division I championship games by the year 2000, winning five more state titles. The Tigers’ six championships are the most for any girls team in the state. Included in that run of success is a 74-game win streak (12-28-91 to 3-19-94) and a national championship in 1999.
Coach Butcher had to have some pretty talented girls to achieve all of this success, and girls like Nicole Sanchez, Susie Cassell, LaToya Turner, Tamara Stocks and Beth Ostendorf, among others, provided that talent. Five of his players have been named to the Parade All-American team, while seven have earned Ohio “Player of the Year” honors.
Coach Butcher has been named Ohio’s “Coach of the Year” five times, has twice been named to coach in the Nike Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-American game, and is Director of the State All-Star Game in Ohio.
Pat Diulus, the head coach at Regina High School in South Euclid, has coached more girls state basketball championship teams than any other coach in Ohio. In his first thirteen seasons as a head coach, Diulus led the Trojans of Trinity High School in Garfield Heights to six trips to the Final Four, winning three state titles, two in Division II (1990, 1996) and one in Division I (1994). His teams also won 123 consecutive North Coast League games, taking home 11 league championships.
In 1998, Diulus assumed his current position as the head basketball coach at Regina High School, and the winning has just continued. In 2000, his Royals made it to the Final Four for the first time in school history, and took home the first of a state record four consecutive Division III championships. The Royals championship win streak was halted in 2004, but they again made it to the finals in ’05, and won their fifth championship, giving coach Diulus a record eight titles, more than any other basketball coach, boys or girls, in the state.
The Royals were shut out of the Final Four in 2006, but this is a new season, and with Pat Diulus closing in on 500 career victories the Royals of Regina High School will again be in the hunt for a Division III state championship.
Only relatively recently has girls high school basketball really started to garner the attention that it deserves. National polls, such as that found in USA Today since around 1983, have featured the nation’s better high school teams, while USA Today and various women’s athletic/basketball organizations have named their annual girls high school all-star and All-American teams. Ohio has been a major contributor to both of these categories. While some have already been mentioned, at this time it would be appropriate to recognize more of these outstanding teams and athletes.
Anyone who has followed the national high school polls for any length of time knows that it is very difficult to maintain a foothold on these top charts throughout an entire season. In football, one loss and you are usually gone. In basketball the pollsters are a little more “lenient,” but not by much.
One of the primary polls for girls basketball at the national level is the USA Today poll. Ohio teams first made their presence known in that paper’s final Super 25 poll in 1986 when Bethel High School of Tipp City highlighted an undefeated season, 27-0, by winning the Class A championship and finishing tenth in the country. Tipp City must have been really rockin’ through March Madness that year. The city’s other high school, Tippecanoe, played in the girls Class AA state championship game that same season, losing a thriller in overtime to West Holmes, 46-42.
In 1987, Cincinnati Seton High School finished at #23 in the country. 1990 was the next time that an Ohio school managed to finish among the nation’s elite teams. The school was Pickerington, which cracked the Super 25 at #7. That would begin an incredible run of success at the national level for the Tigers, one that would see them finish in the USA Today Super 25 final poll every year but one during the decade of the 90s.
The next season, 1991, the Tigers finished at #23 in the national poll. In 1992 they moved up to #6, and were joined in the Super 25 by Urbana High School, which finished 23rd. The next season Pickerington finished even higher at #4. In 1994 they slipped to #9, one spot behind Trinity High School, which had defeated the Tigers that year in the Division I finals. Both Pickerington and Trinity again finished in the final Super 25 poll in 1995, the Tigers coming in at #5 while the Trojans placed at #20.
Pickerington fell out of the rankings of the national elite in 1996, but two other Ohio schools upheld the state’s reputation for fine girls high school basketball. Columbus Brookhaven, the undefeated Division I champions, finished eighth, while Trinity came in at #21. The Pickerington Tigers returned to the top echelons of the national poll in 1997. They finished seventh that year, two spots behind #5 Wadsworth, which had defeated the Tigers by a single point, 48-47, in the Division I semi-finals.
In 1998 Pickerington finished #10 in the nation. Saving the best for last, in 1999 the Tigers closed out an incredible decade of success by winning the national championship. (Playing almost three hundred games during the 1990’s, coach Dave Butcher’s Tigers had lost barely a dozen games, against some of the top competition in Ohio and around the country.) The team that they had defeated in the Division I title game that season, Mason, finished third in the country. To find two teams from the same state so highly ranked is quite an accomplishment, and a real tribute to the quality of basketball played by the young ladies of the Buckeye State.
With the close of the ‘90s, Pickerington’s run of success, at least at the national level, was for the time being, over, but Ohio schools continued to make their mark in the national polls. In 2000, Ohio again had two teams among the Super 25’s final top 10 when Mason moved up to #2, with Regina finishing at #8. In 2001, Beavercreek’s undefeated team also broke into the Super 25, finishing the year at the #10 spot.
Over the last five season’s, Ohio has had two teams finish among the nation’s elite each time. In 2002, Cleveland’s East Tech came in at #18, while Chaminade-Julienne finished at #21. In 2003 Chaminade-Julienne moved up a few spots, finishing at #16, with Beavercreek back in the national picture at #20.
The next year Chaminade-Julienne climbed even higher, but they almost climbed all the way to the top. Going into the Ohio Division I title game in 2004, C-J was ranked #1 in the country, and their opponent in that championship game, Cincinnati Mt. Notre Dame, was ranked ninth. Unfortunately for the Eagles of Chaminade-Julienne, the state championship went to the Cougars of Mt. Notre Dame by a score of 59 to 44. As a result of this game, Mt. Notre Dame finished second in the nation, while Chaminade-Julienne slipped out of the top 10, but still improved over its 2003 ranking by finishing at #11.
In 2005, Chaminade-Julienne and Mt. Notre Dame again faced off for the Division I state championship, and again their positions in the final national rankings were at stake. This time it was the Eagles coming out on top, defeating Mt. Notre Dame’s Cougars by a score of 49-38. As a result, C-J finished #10 in the final national poll, the school’s fourth consecutive Super 25 finish. Mt. Notre Dame came in at #13.
Chaminade-Julienne was missing from the final USA Today poll in 2006, but Mt. Notre Dame was there for the third consecutive season. The Cougars finished at #18, and were joined in the final Super 25 by Cincinnati Princeton, which finished at #20.
The 2007 season looks to be another outstanding one for the girls of Ohio. Mt. Notre Dame and North Canton Hoover high schools were ranked in the USA Today’s first Super 25 poll of the season, and only time will tell how they, and Ohio’s other outstanding teams, will fare by the time the final Super 25 poll comes out at the end of March.
It takes great basketball players to produce winning teams. Only one team can emerge as a state or a national championship, but that still leaves a lot of quality teams, filled with many quality players. The following list contains just a few of the young ladies whose outstanding accomplishments on Ohio’s high school basketball courts have earned them top honors in Ohio and the nation.
Perhaps Ohio’s best high school basketball star is Katie Smith of Logan High School. Ms. Smith topped off her high school career by being named to the WABC, Parade magazine and USA Today All-American teams in 1992. In 2002 she was the only Ohio girl named to USA Today’s All-Time girls high school basketball team.
Other young ladies whose achievements on the basketball court have earned them national recognition in the form of All-American status include Carol Madsen (Cincinnati Reading, 1989), Sameka Randall (Trinity, 1996 & 1997), Tamika Williams (Chaminade-Julienne, 1998), Shalon Pillow (Taylor High School, North Bend, 1998), LaToya Turner (Pickerington, 1999), Barb Turner (Cleveland East Tech, 2002), Jessica Davenport (Independence High School, Columbus, 2003), Allison Boles (Beavercreek High School, 2003), Brittany Hunter (Brookhaven High School, Columbus, 2003), Mel Thomas (Mt. Notre Dame, 2004), Janet Lavender (Cleveland Central Catholic, 2006), Myia McCurdy (Cincinnati Winton Woods, 2006).