Lakota West High School’s girls basketball team is deep in talent and plays without a star mentality. That’s all good with Jaydis Gales.
The junior guard calls herself “a defensive girl” while leading the Greater Miami Conference in field-goal percentage for the Firebirds, who are 24-2 and headed to the Division I regional for the fifth straight year.
“Whenever we try to do it all by ourselves, we all shut down,” Gales said. “But together, we are a team. We keep our cool, talk about things before we go on the court, and then do them.”
DISTRICT FINAL: Lakota West 53, Fairmont 29
She’s averaging 5.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game while shooting 56 percent from the field. West coach Andy Fishman said she exemplifies what he wants to accomplish as a program.
“On every team, someone’s got to get the rebounds and score the points and get the steals and make the assists,” Fishman said. “In winning programs, that’s typically more by committee. In losing programs, it’s more by a stud.
“Jaydis has figured it out that scoring is great in our program, but if you don’t do the nitty-gritty things, you’re not going to be a part of it. If I’m out there looking for kids at the next level, she’s the kind of kid I want in my college program. She’s a really good teammate and a smart player.”
Gales has made 56 of 100 field-goal attempts.
“Take great shots instead of good shots,” she said. “It’s just a mentality I have for myself.”
“She doesn’t waste her shots,” Fishman said. “She takes the ball to the basket as well as any of our kids, and that’s one of the reasons her field-goal percentage is so high. She makes shots in the paint.”
Gales & Co. will travel to Fairmont’s Trent Arena on Wednesday for a 6:15 p.m. regional semifinal against Walnut Hills (25-1), a relative newcomer to this level. The Eagles have been to the regional just once before, losing to Vandalia Butler in 2010.
Fishman said the Eagles are similar in style to West. It’s full-court basketball offensively and defensively.
“In a lot of ways, they’re a younger version of how we play,” Fishman said. “Walnut Hills is deep. They’ll play nine kids. They’re all athletic. They all get after it defensively. They all crash the glass. They’re not 25-1 by mistake.”
Fourth-year Eagles coach Adam Lazar has a team that’s unbeaten in Ohio. Walnut Hills’ lone defeat came in Orlando, Fla., a 45-32 decision against Hoover (Ala.) in the Rock Holiday Classic in December.
The Eastern Cincinnati Conference champions defeated McAuley 60-57 in the district finals last Saturday at Princeton.
“This has been the best experience of all of our lives, so nobody wants it to end,” Lazar said. “We’re very, very humble. We know how much hard work it has taken for us to get where we are. It’s the old coaching angle — nobody thought we would be here. Very few thought we’d beat McAuley and even fewer are giving us a chance against West, but these girls believe in each other. That’s all they’ve needed all year long.
“When I first took the job, there was no tradition of basketball at Walnut Hills, but we’ve really gotten to the point where we belong here. Maybe this year Walnut is a great story, but it’s not always just going to be a great story. We’re going to get to the point where we’re like Lakota West and we’re supposed to be here every year. In the meantime, we’re just enjoying the hell out of this ride.”
Miami University-bound Kennedi Myles, a 6-foot-1 junior center, is averaging 14.7 points, 10 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2 assists per game for the Eagles.
Sophomore Sean Kelly Darks is the point guard and gets 11.3 points, 4.4 boards, 3.1 assists and 3 steals per contest. Senior wing Regan Anderson is also a double-digit scorer (12.4).
Senior guard Emma Mertes was expected to be a key part of the team this year, but tore her ACL in the preseason.
“We’re just the closest family and the toughest group of kids you’re ever going to come around,” Lazar said. “We’ve been through a lot of adversity with this group. I get so many messages from coaches like, ‘Man, your girls never panic and just play for each other.’ ”
Most teams that try to go toe-to-toe with West in a full-court game don’t fare very well. Lazar said he’s more worried about the experience factor.
“In terms of trying to get up and down with them, yeah, we’re going to be strategic with what we do, but we believe we’ve got athletes and players as good as they have,” Lazar said. “My biggest concern is the experience piece. Andy and those girls live in the regionals. This is our first trip past sectionals. I can’t give our kids the kind of experience West has, so we’ll have to make up for it in other ways.”