COLUMBUS - Nearly five full months after Jerry Sigler held Northview's first practice for this season the Wildcats still don't know or even care to find out what it's like to lose.
It's been nothing but winning times for the Wildcats, who have won a school-record 26 straight contests.
However, for the first time all year fifth-ranked Northview is considered an underdog heading into a game. The Wildcats face second-ranked Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame in a Division I state semifinal tonight at the Schottenstein Center.
The Cougars, who are also 26-0, are as talented a team as the Wildcats have stepped onto the same court with all season.
“They're impressive,” Sigler said of the Cougars. “There are not a lot of weak links on that team.”
All-Ohio guard Mel Thomas, a 5-9 senior, leads a Notre Dame team loaded with talent, size, and experience. Thomas, who will play at the University of Connecticut, averages a team-best 20.9 points per contest.
Michelle Jones, a 6-2 junior, averages just under 15 points while playing in the post. Lee Stephens, a 5-7 sophomore guard, has scored 9.2 points this season while Cassie Brannen, a 6-1 junior forward, has been good for 8.6 points a contest during a season in which the Cougars have averaged approximately 70 points a game while holding their opponents to 40 points.
“Their guards can flat-out shoot it,” Sigler said. “If you defend against their inside they'll go outside, and if you defend against their outside game they'll go inside.
“And they can go eight or nine players deep.”
The task certainly appears difficult for the Wildcats. However, the Wildcats, who outscored their opponents by almost 40 points a game this season, aren't planning to wave a white flag before the game's scheduled 8 p.m. tip-off.
“They're pretty good, but we're pretty good, too,” Sigler said. “We'll find out just how good when we play.
“Our kids are fired up about the opportunity to play [in the state tournament].”
The Wildcats, anchored by seven seniors, have seriously been working toward participating in the state tournament the last three seasons. They reached the regional semifinals two years ago. They lost in the regional finals last March.
They knocked off Elyria 46-41 in a regional final to earn the program's second state tournament berth during Sigler's nearly 30-year coaching tenure at Northview. The Wilcats advanced to the state semifinals during the 1977-78 season.
Sigler credits the seniors on the roster for taking the lead role in an unprecedented season of success for the Wildcats.
“They're a very good bunch of basketball players,” Sigler said. “They're great ambassadors for Sylvania city schools.
“They're a special bunch. It'll be very hard to have a bunch like this to come through again.”
Four-year letterwinners Nikki Smith, Brooke Amstutz and Julia Dempster head a group that has been able to hurdle every challenge this season. Nikki Cooper, Erin Wade, Kerry Malley and Lisa Beuhler complete the group of Northview seniors who were all named co-captains at the beginning of the season.
The journey to reach Columbus will be forever remembered by the Wildcats, particularly the seniors.
“It's been an amazing season,” said Dempster, a 5-11 forward, who has averaged 8.6 points a game. “It's been one amazing thing after another. It's been accumulating and it keeps on building.”
It's been a season in which Northview posted its third 20-0 regular season under Sigler. The Wildcats won the Northern Lakes League championship by going undefeated (14-0) in league play for the second time in the past three seasons. Then they marched through districts and regionals to guarantee themselves a spot among the last four teams standing in Division I.
“This has been awesome,” said Amstutz, a 5-8 guard, “It's really hard to go 26 games without a loss and never let up in a single game.
“It really feels incredible. It just makes you work that much harder to not let up.”
The Wildcats make it clear they're not content with just being in Columbus during the final week of the girls basketball season.
“I think it's a great opportunity for us because we've battled since November,” said Smith, a 5-9 guard who has earned All-Ohio recognition. “People have said we're not good enough and we've played a weak schedule, but I think it's great to be able to represent northwest Ohio.”
If Northview reaches tomorrow night's Ohio Division I championship game, the Buckeye Cable Sports Network will show the game live.
The title game is scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m.
The winner of tonight's Northview-Mount Notre Dame game will play the winner of tonight's game between Dayton Chaminade-Julienne (26-0) and Barberton (25-1).