After winning two consecutive Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division championships and going 36-7 in the regular season over those two years, Firelands finds itself in an unfamiliar role heading into Division II tournament play.
The Falcons, who have won only one sectional game in the past five years, are a favorite to advance deep in the district tournament.
“This year’s team is confident in their abilities, more mature and experienced this time around,” Firelands coach Dave Kudela said. “Our expectations are that we are going to go further this year. We don’t want to be a one-and-done team again. We fully expect to win on Saturday and we fully expect to win the game after that, but we know we have to take one game at a time.”
Forget about confidence and maturity, the best thing the Falcons (19-2) may have going for them is their depth.
Firelands has a trio — senior Casey Morrissette, junior Brandi Holowecky and sophomore Keely Hall — that’s taken turns leading the offense.
Morrissette, who earned All-Lorain County honors last season, leads the Falcons with 11.8 points per game. Holowecky is following closely behind at 10.7, while Hall has really improved her all-around game as a sophomore, averaging 8.6 rebounds and 8.5 points.
“We share the ball well and when we get into a tight game we always have multiple girls we can look to get the ball to,” Morrissette said. “We’re like a family on the court. We love each other, we work hard for each other. We know how to react to each other and play together as a team.”
No. 2 Firelands will get its first test Saturday night when it hosts No. 8 seed and former West Shore Conference foe Bay. If the Falcons can get past the Rockets, they will have another home game against Keystone.
“We started to get a feeling this season that everyone was going to bring their best game against us because of the success we’ve had,” Kudela said. “I think that has helped us mentally to be ready for teams who are going to come in and try to knock us off. We’ve handled that pressure well all season.”
After losing the first game of the year at Vermilion, Firelands rattled off 14 straight wins before suffering a one-point loss at home to Division I North Ridgeville.
“I think everybody on this team is pumped up and ready for the tournament. This is what we have been waiting for all year,” Hall said. “We know every time we step out on the court everyone wants to be the team that beats Firelands, so that just makes us want to focus and play even harder.”
Morrissette said one of the team’s goals has been to get to the district finals. In order to do that, they will likely have to beat a Fairview team that completed the PAC schedule on a 15-game winning streak. The Falcons defeated Fairview 42-40 when the teams met early in the regular season.
“We’re ready and excited for whoever we will face in the tournament,” Holowecky said. “Everyone on this team works together very well, so if one person makes a mistake someone is always there to pick them up and make sure the team isn’t affected.
“We get the ball to whoever is hot. There are no selfish players because we know we all have to succeed in order to achieve our team goals.”
“I want to play in the district finals this year and hopefully beyond that,” Morrissette said. “I know we can achieve that. I mean, we have achieved so much already we just have to go out on the court and do the things we’ve done all year.”