Big wins and conference titles are no longer surprises and have suddenly become expectations for the upstart Toledo Christian girls basketball team.
The Eagles captured the program's first Toledo Area Athletic Conference championship since 1995 with a 14-0 record. Toledo Christian (19-3) has steadily improved since Tandy Bradford took over three seasons ago.
“We expect to win now,” Bradford said. “We are mentally tough now.”
With seven letterwinners back, the Eagles went into the season with chemistry and confidence.
Junior forward Darian Westmeyer leads the team in scoring with 15.6 points per game and in rebounding (7.5 boards per game).
“We have grown so close together,” Westmeyer said. “I think we all work really well together. No one will outwork us. Our team [confidence] has grown so much.”
Bradford said when the team won a tournament title at a camp last summer, she knew her team's mentality had changed.
“After we won, one of the older girls on the team said, 'I can't believe we just won,'” Bradford said. “And then one of the other younger girls said 'Why? That is what we are supposed to do.' I thought that was telling. That is where we are at now. We expect to be good all the time.”
Bradford said a second example of the changed mindset came when junior Camille Gist, the team's leading scorer last season, was lost for the year when she tore her ACL in the second game.
“They knew others had to step up,” Bradford said. “Everyone worked hard, and they've accepted their roles since we lost Camille.”
Junior guard Faith Johnson responded to the challenge and is ranked second on the team in scoring at 12.0 points per game.
Seniors Hannah Wehrle and Mackenzie Harder both stepped it up on the boards and are averaging 5.0 rebounds per contest.
Wehrle is a foward and Harder is a guard. Senior guard Lydia Yeager also sees action along with senior Amanda Ford and sophomore Bethany Kollmorgan.
“A big part of it is being able to play and pick up the girls and make them better players,” Westmeyer said. “We've helped each other through it.”
Speed and team defense have been the key elements to the Eagles' success. The team runs a full-court press for four quarters despite having only seven players on the roster.
“That seems to give teams a lot of trouble,” Bradford said. “We go after it and are aggressive. If nothing else we are not going to quit. We play as hard as we can. Their mentality is that we are going to wear teams out.”
Westmeyer said she and her teammates enjoy seeing other teams falter under their press.
“I love it,” she said. “I play the middle of the press, and I get all the steals. It's a big threat against a lot of teams. It works because we are all in good shape. We are all willing to work really hard.”
Bradford, who also is the athletic director, said her team has a friendly rivalry with the boys team that also won a TAAC title.
“It is special,” she said. “We have really great leadership. Our teams get along really well. We cheer for each other.”
The longest tournament run a TC girls team has made is to the regional semifinals in 1994.
“The chemistry that we've had has been the biggest thing with this group,” Bradford said. “They set common goals, and they have worked hard to pursue that.”
The last time a TC girls team won an outright TAAC championship also was in 1994.
“It's very gratifying to see them win the championship,” Bradford said. “They've put in a lot of time. These kids love to play and love this program and love their teammates.”