The seniors on the Lakota West High School girls basketball team began their careers with a state championship and have no idea what a season without a Greater Miami Conference championship feels like.
Now they seek to finish on another high note.
West is 78-7 over the past three years with a Division I state title in 2014-15, regional final and semifinal finishes the following two seasons and three GMC titles, the last of which it shared with Mason.
“They are in a totally different position now,” West coach Andy Fishman said. “We really don’t talk much about that. We’re really just focused on trying to get better as a team, build and grind and figure things out. There’s a lot of responsibility and specialness that comes with being a senior in our program. These guys are working and pushing to go as far as we can go.”
GIRLS BASKETBALL SEASON PREVIEWS
Four of the six seniors on this year’s roster played on the state championship team, including Notre Dame signee Abby Prohaska, Sarah Jones, Madisyn Oxley and Ally Haar.
They’ll help lead the Firebirds as they look to build off a 24-3 finish last year. West fell short against GMC foe Mason in the regional tournament the last two seasons.
“Our first goal is max effort, do what’s asked in terms of benefiting the team and then TWA, which is having ‘the winning attitude,’ ” Fishman said. “We believe we will be very prepared, and that’s all we can do is be prepared to win. Championships come along the way.
“Always when you play for Lakota West girls basketball, the expectations are really high because of the success we’ve had over time. We always share with the girls they need to embrace that.”
Fishman said depth makes this group special.
GIRLS BASKETBALL SEASON PREVIEWS
Prohaska, Jones, Oxley and Haar are among a group of eight potential starters, joined by juniors Bryana Henderson and Jaydis Gale, sophomore Nevaeh Dean and senior Jasmine Ballew. There is plenty of talent beyond those eight, though, and Fishman points out that Jones and Oxley played half of their freshman season on junior varsity before becoming the seventh and eighth players off the bench for a championship squad.
Senior Jada Mason also provides stabilizing leadership for the team.
“We have 11 girls who are competing at the varsity level,” Fishman said. “We have some other girls who have come through our system and are ready. We don’t have one girl that has to do everything and feel that burden. It’s to the point where it doesn’t matter who is in. Lakota West has an identity of how we play, and I like that we are on to that identity and I like that we have options. We have a good deal of experience and talent there.”
The Firebirds, dominated by guards and versatility, will continue to play an upbeat tempo and force teams to try to run the floor with them.
Many opponents struggle with that, but Fishman believes West will continue to be successful with it because of the athleticism of his players and the depth that enables him to keep a steady rotation going to keep players fresh.
“Our style serves multiple purposes and it’s very helpful, not as a means to an end but as a process of development for our girls,” Fishman said.
West has been successful with its system and development of young players in part because of the challenging schedule put together each year. This season, the Firebirds open Nov. 25 against Hamilton Heights (Tenn.) in their own Journey to the Tourney event, followed by a strong Beavercreek team the next night.
They also face McAuley and Wayne in their Kemba Classic Holiday Hoopsfest in December and will be matched up against Urbana (Ill.) and Wadsworth in the Classic in the Country elite event in Berlin in January.
“If we didn’t put together a schedule with opponents they considered serious competition, they would perhaps doubt the confidence we as a coaching staff have in them,” Fishman said. “We want to be excited for the teams we are playing, and this is a team that can handle those kinds of challenges.”