Published: Sunday, March 17, 2013 @ 6:03 PM
Updated: Sunday, March 17, 2013 @ 6:03 PM
By: Marc F. Pendleton - Staff Writer
COLUMBUS — Losing two straight state championship games was tough enough. A third? Don’t even think about it.
“It’s amazing,” said senior wing Alona Skipper after helping Fairmont defeat rival Twinsburg 62-58 in Saturday night’s girls high school basketball Division I state championship at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center.
“It’s not just for me. It’s for the whole team and coach (Tim) Cogan. I feel that I can graduate with peace now.”
Skipper and senior Chelsea Welch were members of four straight Fairmont teams that advanced to the state tournament. As freshmen, their Firebirds team lost in the semifinals. The last two seasons they were swept by Twinsburg in the title games.
Never before had the same two girls teams met in three straight state title games.
“Unfinished Business” was Fairmont’s mantra. It would need that extra motivation to end Twinsburg’s unbeaten season and overcome its Ms. Basketball, Purdue University-bound Ashley Morrissette.
To do that, Fairmont went to its inside power game of 6-foot-2 junior front-liners Makayla Waterman (24 points) and Kathryn Westbeld (13 points, 12 rebounds).
They are two of the most sought-after uncommitted recruits in the Midwest. Both have scores of offers. Westbeld has posted her select seven: Connecticut, Duke, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Southern Cal and UCLA. Waterman also has an offer form OSU.
“Their big girls are both high-level (NCAA) D-I players,” Twinsburg coach Julie Solis said. “We did not do a good job defending them.”
They’re also two big reasons why Fairmont should be a favorite to defend its first state title. Also returning will be starting guard Danie Shafer, a 5-7 junior who transferred in from Wayne after last season.
“I wanted to do it for coach (Cogan),” Westbeld said. “I wanted to do it for my team. I wanted to do it for the city of Kettering. Just to bring (the title) back, it’s an amazing experience for us, especially with our seniors leaving. There was nothing more that we wanted than this championship.”
Waterman’s previous season high was 19 points, way back in mid-December. It was nothing less than a breakout effort by Waterman, who was slowed by knee surgery in summer 2011.
“That was the Makayla that we’ve been waiting for,” Westbeld said. “She had the best game that I’ve ever seen her play.”
Each is a formidable presence. Together they are program definers.
“We have such great chemistry,” Waterman said. “Losing Chelsea and Alona are going to be a big loss but I think we’ll be able to be back here next year.”
Fairmont ends its championship season 27-1. In the last five seasons, the Firebirds have won at least 22 games each season, haven’t lost more than four and are a combined 121-14.
And its great run isn’t done.
“What’s been great about this program is it’s been stable and it’s continued to stay in a positive light,” Cogan said amidst hundreds of Fairmont revelers last Saturday.
“Did I think I’d be here for 13 years? No. Here we are 13 years later and I’m still as passionate as I was 13 years ago. I’m just a little smarter.”