Classic in the Country

Lady Bears seniors are thrilled to be a last-second addition to CitC

James Wagler photos

Head coach Eric Kochendoerfer was happy to tell his underclassmen that his Margaretta Lady Bears would be participating in Classic in the Country XVII next year. However, he was sad that his senior group of seven players whom he adores would not be able to experience the joy of playing in one of the nation’s top high school girls basketball events.

Then came the storm that never was, a prediction of up to 1 foot of snow, that made a shamble of the CitC XVI showcase Jan. 19-21. Teams called and cancelled, afraid to brave the weather. CitC promoter and scheduler Bryce McKey scrambled for teams. One of those teams was Kochendoerfer’s Lady Bears, whom he contacted Friday, Jan. 18 at 3 p.m. to see if they were available for a Saturday 4 p.m. affair with the host Lady Hawks of Hiland.

McKey didn’t have to wait long for an answer. It was an enthusiastic two thumbs up. His Lady Bears would have driven through the storm of the century from Castalia near Sandusky to be a part of something as special as CitC.

“We told the kids that there was a strong possibility that we would play at Classic in the Country next year. The reaction on the faces of the seniors was something,” Kochendoerfer said. “It wasn’t disappointment, but it was just that look of, ‘Man, I wish we could be there.’ But I will never forget the expression on the faces of those senior girls when I told the team last night that we were coming. Just the excitement, you could feel the raw energy and raw excitement. I was so happy for this group of seniors because they deserve it.”

In a move that could only be called a class act all the way, the Margaretta school district tweeted out a huge thanks to the two teams they had to take off the schedule or reschedule in order to make their trip a reality.

“We had just talked to our coaches earlier and told the team we were coming down here next year, so of course that took a big toll on us seniors because we have been down here since fifth or sixth grade,” senior co-captain Faythe Smetzer said. “When they told us the news yesterday, there was immediate emotions and crying [for joy], and even the underclassmen were just as happy for us as we were because they knew what that meant to us to be able to come here.”

Once at CitC the Lady Bears did something no team has done since the season opener, which was hang with the Lady Hawks. One of the most storied programs in the state, Hiland hasn’t been challenged since game one, and Margaretta stepped in with very little notice and played their hearts out before a third quarter struggle led to a 42-33 defeat. However, they led Hiland at the half by eight and played extremely well.

Yes, Kochendoerfer’s team wanted desperately to win the game, but in the same breath they were grateful to have the opportunity to experience one of the nation’s finest showcases for high school girls.

“We came up a little short today on the scoreboard, but it has been an awesome time, and we are very appreciative of this opportunity,” Kochendoerfer said. “We are going to stay overnight and take in some basketball tomorrow. We have a bunch of basketball junkies, so we are in heaven. We are just going to enjoy ourselves.”

In addition his team got to experience playing one of the state’s most highly decorated programs, which always gives teams fits at the Reese Center in Berlin and especially at CitC.

“This is a special group of girls, and we have always said we would play anybody, any time, any place to get better,” Kochendoerfer said. “We didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for them, but they didn’t have much time to prepare for us either. I thought we were prepared defensively, and we had a great time. We are so happy to be here.”

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