Black-and-red-clad fans on the court as South Webster players stood one-by-one atop a ladder, cutting down the nets of a district championship with no intention of ending the season anytime soon.
This memory is also vivid in their minds.
The memory is the Lady Jeeps walking off the court after an overtime loss to East in the sectional final in 2006 to cap a 2-19 season.
Fortunately for South Webster, the former may soon make everyone forget about latter.
“My first year we didn't win any and last year it was only two games,” said South Webster junior Brittney Puckett. “This year, we have a lot of talent.”
That talent has surprised its own community as well as the last four teams South Webster has faced.
When South Webster brought its 11-9 record into the tournament, many felt that the 64-28 drubbing of Fairfield in the sectional semifinal would be the high point. But the Lady Jeeps knocked off SOC I champ New Boston for a sectional title, defeated Trimble and then beat Adena 50-48 for a district championship and a shot at the best in the Division IV Regional Semifinals.
The Lady Jeeps haven't turned things around with any single star. Though freshman Kayla Cook is the team's leading scorer, coach Kristie Johnson said it's a team thing. South Webster relies heavily on its three juniors, Puckett, Molly Roark and Becky Russ, as well as its two sophomores, Erin Sherman and Erin Moore for big minutes. Sherman is the team's second leading scorer.
After that group, there is a mass of freshmen. Three of them, Cook, Thea Culver and Taylor Queen, are starters.
A team with no seniors and a 2-19 record from the previous year certainly didn't intimidate a lot of teams, but playing the role of underdog hasn't bothered the girls. In fact, they embrace the challenge.
“I think that the team gets fired up because we want to try and prove them wrong,” said Cook.
The players are rife with stories about classmates and family predicting they would lose.
“When we started the season I had a family member say we're not going to win two games,” said Johnson. “When we did that, then we bet double or nothing that we wouldn't win 10 games.”
Now 15-9, the Lady Jeeps have finally won over their community and in the process, revived a program that had been floundering.
Johnson has headed up the revival. The second-year coach took over for Mark Spears after the winless 2005 campaign and has gained the full support of her athletes.
“(Johnson) has done a lot to improve this team,” said Sherman. “We might have hated her a few days, but I'm glad she's done it.”
The new-found winning ways haven't surprised Johnson but the team will face its toughest task today when South Webster takes on Berlin Hiland, two-time defending state champions in the regional semifinal.
“We had an incredible freshmen class move in to what we accomplished last year,” said Johnson. “I know we're facing a giant, but people said we wouldn't win the last four games.”
Berlin Hiland is 20-4, with one of those losses coming to division I Lakota West of Cincinnati. The Lady Hawks finished the season ranked fourth in the Ohio Associated Press poll, but Johnson has the team believing in itself.
“As long as we play to our ability,” said Puckett. “We can beat them.”
“(Johnson) is the best coach I've ever had,” she said. “She pushes us and knows what we can do.”
Cook shared similar sentiments but acknowledged the magnitude of the task ahead.
“The first quarter is going to have to be explosive,” said Cook. “We're a second-half team but, we can't be a second-half team.”
Whether or not the Lady Jeeps can shock the state will be seen tonight but Johnson said the Lady Jeeps definitely won't quit.
“(We) never give up,” said Johnson. “Even if we could get a loss, we're going to die trying.”
Tip-off is tonight at 8 p.m. at Pickerington North High School.
JOHN STEGEMAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.