COLUMBUS – The journey was completed Saturday night: The Lakota West girls’ basketball team is Division I state champions.
“It feels amazing,” Lakota West senior guard Lauren Cannatelli said. “The best feeling ever.”
After being pegged as a preseason state favorite, the Firebirds persevered throughout the postseason and showed their toughness this weekend when it needed it the most, winning Saturday 44-38.
Lakota West coach Andy Fishman emphasized all winter how the season was a journey. He wanted his team to celebrate the good times but also embrace the challenge of looking ahead to the next opponent.
Essentially, everything the team did was to prepare for the significant stage of Saturday night.
“These girls deserve it,” Fishman said. “We kept saying it through the beginning of the season through the workouts and everything. We really felt that we deserved to be state champions. And the effort they gave tonight – I could never be more proud of the girls and that’s regardless of what the outcome would’ve been.”
Lakota West (28-2) won its first state girls’ basketball title since the school opened in 1997. Lakota West made its third appearance in the state Final Four, including its second state final.
“The team chemistry couldn’t be any better,” junior forward Lexi Wasan said. “I will always remember this team forever.”
School officials said late Saturday night it is considering a state title celebration Friday, March 27 at Lakota West.
Wasan had 15 points and nine rebounds, Cannatelli added 14 points and junior guard Danielle Wells had 10 points and five rebounds.
“It feels amazing,” Wells said of the state title. “We’ve been working for this for so long. Now to finally say that we have it – we are not just close – we have the title. It’s a great feeling.”
Wasan had six 3-point attempts all season including 2-for-2 on Saturday night. She said Fishman told her to take the shots and she did just that. Her second 3-pointer with 2:32 left squashed a Toledo Notre Dame rally and put the Firebirds up 40-35.
Cannatelli, a Dayton signee, made two free throws as the final points of the game. Cannatelli, an Associated Press Division I state player of the year, finished her Lakota West career with 1,426 points, according to Lakota West sports information.
Lakota West was without senior forward Arianne Whitaker, who was injured in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s state semifinal against Newark. Whitaker was on the bench for the game but did not play.
“And let’s face it we had to play without one of our top girls tonight after another grueling game the night before,” Fishman said.
Lakota West played a rugged schedule all season including a trip to the Classic in the Country Challenge, the Kemba Classic Holiday Hoops Fest at Lakota West, a Greater Miami Conference schedule and wins over McAuley and Mount Notre Dame in the regional tournament.
Lakota West won 21 consecutive games including the state final.
“We talked about how everybody was going to come after us at the beginning of the season and we tried to live up to our title I guess of being picked to win state,” Wells said. “Now that we finally done it, it’s a huge accomplishment.”
The Firebirds held off a late surge by Toledo Notre Dame (27-3) in the second half and Wells said the team kept its composure.
Lakota West led by as much as 10 in the first half (28-18) but the Eagles kept it close in the third quarter. The Eagles closed the gap to two points twice in the fourth quarter.
Wasan’s 3-pointer and a basket by Wells pushed the lead to 42-37 with 1:55 left and the Firebirds weren’t threatened again.
“I think when it hit 0.8 seconds we started hugging because you never are for sure until that last 0.8,” Wasan said.
Saturday marked the first meeting between the two programs, according to Lakota West historian Bob Ashby.
The two teams had four common opponents this season including Mount Notre Dame, Toledo Central Catholic, Wadsworth and Solon.
Lakota West players celebrate winning the Division I Girls State Championship over Notre Dame Academy.
The Firebirds broke the school record for most wins in a season on Friday night (27) and ended the season with 28. Lakota West previously had 26 wins set in 2007-08.
Lakota West is the second straight Greater Miami Conference to win the the Division I girls’ basketball state final. Princeton won the state title last season.
The Firebirds are ranked No. 21 nationally in the ESPN 25 Power Rankings.
Toledo Notre Dame, which defeated Solon Friday night in the state semifinals made its fourth consecutive state Final Four appearance this weekend.
Senior point guard Christiana Jefferson had 16 points and senior post player Kaayla McIntyre added 13 for the Eagles.
Lakota West (28-2) – Wells 5 0 10, Staples 2 0 4, Cannatelli 4 4 14, Wasan 6 1 15, Prohaska 0 1 1. Totals: 17 6 44
Toledo Notre Dame (27-3) – Copeland 2 0 5, Huth 1 0 2, McIntyre 6 1 13, Jefferson 7 2 16 Goedde 1 0 2. Totals: 17 3 38
Halftime score: Lakota West 22-16. 3-pointers: Lakota West 4 (Cannatelli 2, Wasan 2). Toledo Notre Dame 1 (Copeland)