FOSTORIA - The diminutive Fostoria St. Wendelin girls basketball team has turned a potential handicap into a major advantage and an undefeated season.
The starting five in the Mohawks lineup averages just 5-foot-6 and the tallest player on the roster is 5-10. Yet St. Wendelin has dominated taller opposition to the tune of a 21-0 record. The Mohawks have outscored their foes by an average of 30 points.
"We're a quick and fast team," coach Aaron Smith said. "We cause havoc. It offsets our size difference and we overcome that with our quickness. Our press generates the majority of our points. Our forte is pressure, pressure, pressure. We live and die by it."
The Mohawks have actually thrived by utilizing a three-guard set to apply constant pressure with a full-court press for the majority of games. Scoring off the miscues in transition is the catalyst and has led to a No. 5 ranking in the Division IV state poll.
"We've improved so much defensively," Smith said. "With our quickness, it's hard for teams to get shots off. The pressure of our guards leads to a lot of turnovers. We get a lot of shots because of turnovers."
St. Wendelin won its first Midland Athletic League title (10-0) since 1986 - the year the league was founded. It shared the title that year with New Riegel.
Senior guard Dani Papenfus is averaging 13.9 points and 2.5 steals per game.
"I like the quick game," Papenfus said. "It keeps us going. It gives us momentum. We don't have that one big girl. But we're a quick team overall."
The 5-4 guard said she never has played a half-court style.
"I like it to keep moving," she said. "We get runs off of our press. We score and keep going and going. It gives you an adrenaline rush."
Sophomore guard Lauren "Cookie" Geroski also has excelled in the system with 11.7 points, 3.1 steals and 3.3 assists per game.
"It's a fascinating game," the 5-5 Cookie said. "It's nice that we don't have to worry about stopping and refocusing. We keep pushing and pushing."
Cookie Geroski's senior sister, Jordan, the team's tallest player, plays one of the two post positions. Jordan is averaging just under six rebounds per game.
"The seniors' job is to keep everyone up," Jordan Geroski said. "The defense is geared toward up tempo. We try to transition. If we have to get set, it slows us down. But I like the challenge in the post when I come up against a 6-foot girl."
Lindsay Schiefer (5-9), the other post player, is averaging 9.1 points, 6.8 boards and 3.3 steals per game. The third guard, junior Francena Tate (5-3), leads the team with 3.8 assists per game.
The team also has ability from long range and led the MAL with 114 3-pointers. The Mohawks average 63.2 points per game and yield just 33.1.
St. Wendelin had to knock off powerhouse New Riegel, which also was undefeated in league play, to win the MAL title. Before a sellout home crowd that wore black shirts for a "blackout," St. Wendelin cruised to a 45-29 victory.
"It's been a drought to say the least," Smith said. "It's just a once in a lifetime opportunity. We're blessed with girls that want to get better and compete."
He said the scene was comparable to winning a regional championship.
"We cut the nets down and none of the fans left," Smith said. "The kids were hooting and hollering."
Cookie Geroski said one of her teachers told her that she was a junior at the school when St. Wendelin last won an MAL title.
"It was a dream come true," Cookie said. "It's so sweet to do it with my sister. When I was little I would watch her play. We always point to each other and smile."
Jordan Geroski said it was special for the entire school.
"The fans all rushed the court," Jordan Geroski said. "It was incredible. I hope it will set the stage for Saturday."
St. Wendelin beat Vanlue 69-34 in the opening round of the D-IV tournament. That sets up a showdown with Van Buren (15-5) tomorrow in a sectional final at Findlay.
The teams met on Dec. 18 and the Mohawks trailed Van Buren by 12 points going into the fourth quarter. But St. Wendelin rallied for a 34-30 win at home.
"Everyone says they have the most talent of anyone in the region," Smith said. "But if they're not hitting their outside shots, they can be beat."
A tournament run seemed inconceivable four years ago. In 2005-06, the Mohawks had their first winning season since 1995-96. The four seniors won eight games as freshmen, 12 as sophomores and 18 as juniors.
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