With just two returning letter winners coming into the season, Port Clinton head coach Toby Bickel wasn't quite sure what to expect out of his team.
The Redskins, who had to replace five seniors from a squad that went 13-8 overall and 8-6 in the Sandusky Bay Conference, knew that Tiffany Colston and Hope Thorbahn, their two best players, would be consistent contributors, but had questions about the rest of the squad.
After finishing the year with a 21-4 overall record, a 12-2 mark in the SBC and an appearance in the Division II District Finals, it's safe to say the lesser-known players players did a fine job and made a name for themselves along the way.
This season, it was players like Hannah Weaver, Kennedy Gulas, Emily Ashley and Paige Culver that helped to push Port Clinton over the top as they consistently helped to complement Colston and Thorbahn on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.
Head coach Toby Bickel, now in his 10th season with the club, spoke about the team's accomplishments.
“Obviously, it was a wonderful season with a lot of great kids,” he said. “We only had two kids returning with varsity experience, Hope and Tiffany, and they were awesome leaders and the younger kids stepped up. You have great kids all the way up from JV thru varsity, No. 1 thru 20. They worked hard, got along well and got better as the year went on.”
Bickel spoke about the team's high point of the season, a dramatic 52-45 win in the sectional final against rival Oak Harbor. In the game, Port Clinton, behind 20 points from Colston and 11 apiece from Weaver and Ashley, rallied from a seven-point deficit to win their first sectional title since 2006.
“The biggest win was Oak Harbor,” Bickel said. “That was definitely stressful. I knew the kids would step up and win that game. Oak Harbor had a very good year, and anytime you're playing for a sectional title and you're playing rival, it's tough. We hadn't been past that point for a while, so it was tough (mentally for our players).”
“We had a great year, but your year is only as good as your last game. We were 19-3, but if we lose that game, everybody goes home sad.”
After beating the Rockets, Port Clinton defeated Rossford, 45-28, in the district semifinal before falling to Toledo Rogers, the sixth-ranked team in the state, 68-40.
Thorbahn, who averaged 14 points and eight rebounds, second on the team to Colston (15 pts, 8 rebs), spoke about the job the role players did in helping to make the 'Skins such a well-rounded unit.
“Going into this year,” Thorbahn said, “Tiffany and I knew we had to be scoring threats, but Hannah and Emily both made the pressure go away. They came in ready to their job, and that's exactly what they did. They made it so much easier play this season.”
Bickel also spoke about the job Weaver and Ashley did this season.
“Those two sophomores stepped in and filled the roles we needed,” Bickel said. “When Hannah and Emily were scoring some points, that was the difference-maker. The (opponents) had to account for them at some point. It's harder to account for four (players) as opposed to two.”
“Last year was a building year, we lost five seniors, so there were a lot of question marks. A lot of our kids got a lot of positive playing time at JV last season.”
The 'Skins, who will return all of their players for next year's team, will be looking to compete for an SBC crown and improve upon their performance in the tournament.
“We talk all the time – you get better in the offseason, you need to improve in the offseason. Quite a few of the girls are playing AAU this spring and summer. That's big.”
Bickel was also appreciative of the support the team got from the community during their run.
“It was nice to have the support. It got some people up to the games and the girls appreciated it. The student section was awesome. We outnumbered Oak Harbor, Rossford and Rogers by far (in the tournament). It's nice that the girls get some recognition. These are some good players and they're fun to watch.”
What stood out for Thorbahn was camaraderie the team was able to build with one another this year.
“The chemistry we have built throughout the season has been amazing,” she said. “Team bonding, the team breakfast and dinners, the little things that we did, I think that's what made this team not just a team but a family.
“We had a terrific year both on and off the court. It was really nice to see all the girls work hard and want to come out and show people what we could accomplish. I think we made a statement to the community and others around us and it was nice to see the support we had this year from our community and our students.”