Firebirds hope fourth consecutive state tournament trip is the one.
Fairmont’s march to the OHSAA Division I state tournament was almost derailed in a regional semifinal game against Mason. The Firebirds were on life support and down by as many as eight points with about 90 seconds left in the game.
After newcomer Danie Shafer hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to send the game into overtime, her teammates knew what to do from there. Fairmont pulled out the 67-63 victory.
Fairmont head coach Tim Cogan believed that nail-biting victory was helpful in preparation for the Firebirds’ regional final game against Centerville, who Fairmont defeated 58-46 last Saturday. Centerville beat Fairmont 54-48 in GWOC Central Division game on Jan. 23 in the Firebirds’ only loss this season.
“Winning that game the way we did definitely motivated our girls and made them realize it could come to an end if we don’t play better throughout the guts of the game,” Cogan said in an email.
The win over Centerville sends Cogan’s Firebirds to the Schottenstein Center for their fourth-straight trip to the Division I state tournament.
Fairmont (25-1) faces a familiar opponent in Toledo Notre Dame Academy tonight in a state semifinal game. The Eagles lost last year’s match-up 54-45. Only one player returns from that Eagles team who saw significant time in last year’s semifinal loss in 5-10 junior Jayda Worthy. The Firebirds are returning their entire squad, plus the addition of Shafer.
“The biggest difference is having another year of experience,” Cogan said. “Hopefully it helps when we get to Columbus.”
Notre Dame Academy (25-3) is also led by 6-1 sophomore Tierra Floyd, an AP third team All-Ohio selection this season. Floyd is scoring 11.2 points per game. Also in double figures is 6-1 sophomore Kaayla McIntyre at 10.8 points per game. Rounding out the starters are Worthy (12.1 ppg), 6-0 senior guard Christy Ohlinger (6.3 ppg) and Chistiana Jefferson, a 5-5 sophomore contributing 5.8 points per game.
Fairmont is led by 5-9 senior point guard Chelsea Welch, who averages 14 points, 4.1 assists, and 3.8 steals per game, and is shooting 53 percent from the field. Welch is a four-year-starter. The other senior, three-point bomber 5-9 guard Alona Skipper, is also a four-year letter winner.
“They are two great seniors who have helped take our program to new heights,” Cogan said of Welch and Skipper. “They have always bought in even when times were tough. They will be missed.”
The Firebirds have also reached those heights on the backs of their two super 6-2 juniors, Kathryn Westbeld and Makayla Waterman. Both are major college prospects, but it is Westbeld (a second team All-Ohio selection) who makes this team go.
Westbeld averages 15 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.1 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game. Waterman, who possesses a number of post moves, has averaged 8 points and seven rebounds per game.
The victor in this matchup will play the winner of Twinsburg/Olentangy Orange on Saturday evening at 8:30 p.m. Twinsburg, the two-time defending state champion is undefeated and was ranked number one in the final AP state poll. Twinsburg has defeated Fairmont in both of those state title tilts.
Cogan hopes the third time is a charm.
“It’s a great feeling getting back to state,” Cogan said. “I’m very proud of our team and how hard they’ve worked to make this dream come true once again. “It’s hard to maintain the success we’ve had, but we have people that truly buy in to our system and that makes a big difference.”
Listen live to Fairmont vs. Notre Dame Academy: The Fairmont vs. Notre Dame Academy state semifinal — along with all state final games tomorrow — will be broadcast live on the OHSAA Radio Network. Listen live to the OHSAA’s Radio Network’s coverage of Fairmont vs. Notre Dame starting 7:45 p.m.