Renewing the rivalry

Game 7  JAN 15 SAT 8:30 pm   Columbus Africentric Nubians vs. Hiland Lady Hawks

By Dave Mast

Simply put, this contest is one in which both coaches and teams look forward to. After Africentric came along, it quickly became one of the Ohio small school program’s greatest rivalries, as the two teams kept a vigilant lookout on the other as each season progressed, knowing that they would more than likely have to get through the other to win a State title.

That has changed this season with Africentric, who ended last year at 18-6, sliding up a notch to Div. III, but thanks to the Classic, the rivalry continues. The contest will match wits between two of the state’s top coaches, Will McKinney and Dave Schlabach, who have both gained a mutual respect for each other’s coaching abilities and their respective programs.

“It’s always a learning experience going up against Dave, and the atmosphere here at the Classic is second to none,” said McKinney. “We know that gymnasium is going to be packed with a lot of rabid fans, and most of them won’t be wearing purple.”

McKinney said that Schlabach always has his teams prepared to play, no matter the opponent, and every time these two teams get
together, it could easily develop into an instant classic.

Leading the way for the Nubians will be a pair of familiar names, seniors Raven Ferguson, who will be playing at The Ohio State University next season, and Brittani Thomas, who has made plans to play at the University of Akron.

Both exciting talents are fun to watch, and they will be joined by junior Kiyanna Black, whom McKinney describes as an explosive kid who reminds him of her teammate, Ferguson. “She has the ability to take us to the next level,” said McKinney.

The Lady Hawks have lost perhaps the most talented quintet of classmates the school has had since 2000 to graduation. While Schlabach thinks his team has all the making of a very solid defensive team, he continues to try to fill the scoring holes left by the
graduation of high-scoring Hilary Weaver and Noelle Yoder.

“We’re still trying to see who will be doing our scoring,” said Schlabach, whose team finished up in the finals with a 25-3 record. “Hopefully we will spread it around this year, but we are going to need some kids to step up and fill that role.”

One player he knows he can turn to is junior McKenzie Miller, who has exhibited a good nose for the bucket this summer. From there,
Schlabach said it would be like figuring out a Rubik’s Cube to see who steps up and scores.

Seniors Ashley Weaver and Arrianna Schrock are two possibilities, with Schrock showing some positive offense last season. 6-foot-2-inch Hannah Stoneman and fellow junior, 6-foot Bria Coil, pose some solid size inside for the Div. IV Lady Hawks. Junior swing player Regan Miller really came on last season until getting injured, and classmates Meagan Hall and Melissa Mast are two more pieces of the puzzle for Hiland. Sophomore point guard Kendra Schlabach may also be asked to bulk up her scoring numbers, although she is more comfortable dishing out assists.

“We’ve got kids capable of scoring, but they have to believe in themselves, that they are capable of doing it,” said Schlabach.

As for Africentric, Schlabach simply shook his head jokingly, mumbling something about how the event directors must have it in for him.

“It’s been a really fun rivalry, and we have so much respect for Will and what his team has accomplished over the past few years,” said Schlabach.