Lady Fighting Tigers’ season full of hard work, succcess
COLUMBUS — On Friday, Oct. 23, 2015, a group of girls picked up their boarding ticket and began a long, arduous journey.
What followed were 71 practices, five scrimmages, a conference preview and 28 games.
Along the way the group of girls known as the Ironton Lady Fighting Tigers won a second straight Ohio Valley Conference title, a program record unbeaten regular season at 22-0, a sectional title, a district crown and a regional championship.
The journey culminated with a Division III state semifinal game on Thursday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center against eventual state champion Columbus Africentric.
The joy and euphoria that hit a fever pitch turned to sorrow and tears when the Lady Tigers struggled from the field as they shot 26 percent, often missing shots that found the basket all season as they lost 63-34.
But once the smoke cleared, that last game couldn’t erase all the success and memories during one of the Lady Tigers’ greatest seasons.
“You couldn’t ask for a better season, honestly,” said senior Cheyenne Scott, an All-Ohio forward and four-year starter. “I had a great time. Everything has to come to an end. You couldn’t ask for a better season, a better team, a better coach.”
The coach was 10-year veteran Doug Graham who was named the Associated Press Co-Coach of the Year.
Sitting at the media table in the post-game press conference, Graham praised his team both as players and individuals.
“These girls set the record at Ironton High School with an undefeated season. We’re going to miss these girls off the court more and in the classroom,” said Graham.
“My girls never quit. They gave me all they had all the time all season. They battled all the way through to the end. I’m very proud of these girls. The best thing and the worst thing about basketball is March. Very few teams end on a high note.”
With a sly look he said that the girls were well-behaved in the hotel but added that they were well-behaved on the bus which drew chuckles from Lexie Barrier and Scott who were sitting on either side of the coach.
Africentric coach Will McKinney said in his post-game press conference that his team was well-prepared for tournament play due to their schedule that included many teams who went deep into the post-season.
Graham was asked if that gave Africentric an edge. He answered by pointing out Ironton’s schedule that included Centerville, Chillicothe, Wheelersburg, Ashland, Ky., Russell, Ky., South Webster and Alexander along with the league schedule.
“I think our schedule at Ironton is very tough. We played Alexander who was in the regionals. We played South Webster who was in the regionals. Centerville is Div. I and a really good team, Russell who went to the Sweet 16 in Kentucky. I think our schedule was a tough as I can make it where we’re at (geographically),” said Graham.
“And they played a tough schedule, too.”
The schedule provided quite a challenge for the Lady Fighting Tigers and they met each challenge with a win as a team, whether as a starter or filling their role off the bench.
Senior Lexie Barrier led the challenge and provided her own highlight reel as she became the most decorated player in the program’s history.
Barrier became the program’s all-time leading scorer, she was named the Southeast District Player of the Year for the second straight year, she was a McDonald’s All-American finalist, she was first team All-Ohio again, she was the Associated Press Tri-Player of the Year in Division III and was a Ms. Basketball nominee.
And despite being the focus of opposing defenses and drawing double and triple teams, she handled the situation with grace, dignity and humility. She was a team player who was unselfish and enjoyed her teammates.
Scott was the team’s enforcer whose grit rubbed off on her teammates. She could score and rebound as well as supply muscle.
Senior guard Jordan Hannan was the epitome of a role player. She played defense, made key steals and rebounds, and hit the shots when she took them, leading the team in field goal percentage.
The old West had its share of gunslingers but none could match Syd the Kid. Sydney Webb left the crowd filled with anticipation and excited when she loaded up her six-shooter and fired from 3-point land.
But often her long-range shooting overshadowed her all-around skills as she displayed a complete game.
Sophomore Lexie Wise handled the ball and her quickness and speed allowed her to get to the basket. Her long arms and legs and ability to swarm an opposing player probably made teams think they were being guarded by an octopus.
The role players off the bench were all juniors: Alyssa Lewis, D’Laynie Keith and Zakia Lee. Each has a certain job and each did it well.
And there were those unsung heroes such as senior Kaylin Easterling, sophomore Katie Boyer and freshman Haylee Stevens who provided the opposition in practice.
And then there was the Sixth Man.
Unlike Africentric who draws players from the entire Columbus area and beyond, Ironton is like most schools and is based in a community.
Graham couldn’t say enough good things about the parents, teachers, administration, fans and entire Ironton community for their overwhelming support.
“The last 48 to 72 hours, the Ironton community, I’m speechless. They’re wonderful. The faculty and the staff, the administration at Ironton City, were wonderful from selling tickets to going to all of our games, from the sectionals up to this stage,” said Graham.
“The fans, the community members, they made us feel like, I think one of the girls said they made us feel like rock stars only low-key. And they did. I can’t say enough about Ironton. I love being an Ironton Fighting Tiger. They gave us a standing ovation when we walked off the floor. Things like that make me want my two sons to graduate from Ironton. I love the place.”
For the Lady Fighting Tigers, that’s one ticket that was well worth the price of the ride.