Back on Dec. 5, the Canfield girls basketball team was defeated 59-52 by West Branch.
That loss in the third game of the season didn't send many shock waves through the Canfield community, but it must have left quite an impact on the Lady Cardinals. Ever since that setback Canfield's lady cagers won 23 consecutive games sending them to the Division II District championship. In a great twist of irony the team standing between the Cardinals and another district title was that equally wonderful West Branch bunch.
Well, Canfield earned revenge from that December defeat, captured the district and upped its winning streak to 24 in a row by edging the Lady Warriors, 40-37. The win over West Branch also gave this grand group of Canfield seniors something very special.
"It was our fifth straight Division II district title," exclaimed Canfield head coach Pat Pavlansky. "That's amazing. It was a great game and a great win."
Great is a word that may be thrown around too often, but in the case of this district championship clash it was apropos. West Branch actually won the first, third and fourth periods, but it was the second stanza that whipped the Warriors. Down 11-9, Canfield's defense destroyed West Branch over the second eight minutes outscoring its opponent 9-0. The Cardinals' defense has been dominating at times this season, but shutting out such a prolific scoring offense in the second quarter last Saturday was downright amazing. Coach Pavlansky attributed that ability to take over a game to his veteran group of girls' confidence.
"The girls are experienced and know how to play," Pavlansky said. "They are great in every situation."
Everyone knows how great senior Sabrina Mangapora has been since she stepped on the court four years ago and her extraordinary effort continued in the title game. Mangapora was masterful against West Branch with a 14-point, 13-rebound double-double. Rachel Tinkey took it to the Warriors too, scoring 10 points and grabbing six boards. Allison Pavlansky got hurt in her game a week ago, but put a hurting on West Branch last Saturday with seven points and five rebounds. Kayla Barko had seven rebounds as the Cardinals clobbered their foe on the glass all day.
Not only can Barko board, but she can also put the ball in the hoop when needed. The senior showed that against Struthers in the district semifinal game on Feb. 28. Barko became one of four Cardinals in double-figures when she scored 10 points in her team's 61-54 victory.
"Lots of people contributed," Pavlansky said. "It is a team game and our squad understands that. Everyone has their role and does it well."
Also helping to roll the Lady Wildcats were Tinkey who had 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds, Mangapora who scored a dozen points to go along with 14 boards and Abby Baker who beat Struthers with 10 points.
Struthers did not make things easy on its conference foe as Canfield only led by two points at halftime. Once again it was the Cardinals' suffocating defense that took over in the second half to make Struthers submit.
With the district crown now firmly on the Cardinals' heads for the fifth straight season, they will now set their sights on finishing in the Final Four. That first step towards immortality is Tuesday, March 5 when the Canfield girls play Parma Heights Holy Name at Barberton High School. Holy Name nailed Vermillion in its district final 52-45 and, although it poses a potential threat to Canfield's championship dreams, it can't match the local ladies' 25 wins. Of course, according to coach Pav, nothing can match the thrill of playing in the Sweet Sixteen.
"There is always excitement this time of year," said the coach. "We are playing well and hopefully it will continue in the regional tournament."