Editor's note: After this story was posted, Maria Maringer scored 10 points and Kamil Stephens nine Friday as Danbury beat Old Fort 43-32 in the Sandusky Bay Conference River Division.
Opposing coaches don't want to play Danbury.
They know about the Lakers' defense, and when it will show up on the schedule. Opposing players are foolish to assume they will win before the game begins.
These Danbury girls have always been winners. They had every intention to keep it that way.
"Their intensity and commitment to play hard all the time is a strength," coach Dick Heller said. "They keep battling. Everyone who plays, plays that way. It's been a team effort. They get along well. They do things together, and chemistry is an important ingredient.
"Their desire to play hard to be in games. It's a pride factor. We want people to know we'll play hard — on offense and defense — and do everything we can to come out on the winning side."
It lost to Sandusky Bay Conference River Division leaders Old Fort and New Riegel by five apiece in the first matchup. It believes it could be a spoiler, with bigger goals to come.
"We have to win some of the tougher ones," Heller said. "We came close with Lakota. The next step is to beat them. We made a big step this year to get where we're at compared to previous years. The biggest goal was team chemistry and bonds.
"Everybody pull their weight and practice at a higher level with effort. Our kids don't like to lose. They wanted to win."
Danbury allowed three points in the first half in its first of two victories over defending league champ Hopewell-Loudon. It trailed Lakota by 12 points in the third quarter, took the lead with five seconds left and lost on an offensive putback at the buzzer.
Gabby Maringer made free throws down the stretch as Danbury beat physical Northwood by one.
"We've decided to hang our hats on defense," Heller said. "We've played that way and I hope we play the rest that way."
Senior Maringer is joined by sophomore sister Maria Maringer, classmate Kelly Uhinck, and juniors Kamil Stephens and Natalie Rose as starters.
Gabby Maringer averages 5.6 rebounds, 3.4 steals and a team-high 2.4 assists. Uhinck averages 6.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.6 steals.
Stephens averages a team-high 8.4 points, including nearly half Danbury's 3-pointers with 14. She makes 87.5% of free throws on 16 tries.
Maria Maringer averages 7.1 points and 2.8 steals. Senior Kayla Rodriguez averages 5.5 points, and Rose averages 5.2 points, sprinkling in an occasional 3-pointer and drawing fouls.
"Gabby is the point guard," Heller said. "She helps keep things solid. Uhinck can score and rebound like crazy. Natalie picked up her game."
Senior Emma Holzaepfel, sophomores Lia Brown and Ellie Fish, and freshmen Maci Brown and Mia McDonald are squarely in a rotation of 11 girls. Several more work for time in the varsity mix.
"We're balanced," Heller said. "We have 11 scorers. We share the ball. Any of them can lead the team in scoring any game. On any given night, any one of them has stepped in and carried the load. That's nice, but you wish you could get them all more playing time."
The girls accept their roles, understanding depth is a strength.
"It starts with the assistants," Heller said. "The staff is excellent and they have a good rapport with the girls. The kids respond. These girls, all the way through in junior high, they were winning the championship or right there second or third.
"You could see the talent and it's exciting they put the time in in the offseason and their approach doing that, and enjoying being there to work on it is what's made it special. That type of thing."
Heller won't say he awaited this year, but he seemed to see it coming. Now, the girls are validating effort with rewards.
Thirty-three points a game are enough for a win on average.
"We expected this," he said. "It's something they all wanted. There are games we could have won for an even better situation. We want the kids coming in expecting to compete with the top teams in the league. We felt this group would make a run at it.
"Every coach waits for this type of group so the young kids are working and ready to go to keep it going when they get here. Danbury girls basketball has a rich tradition. It's something we hope to build and continue to build."
Jacki Brown and Julie McDonald are former Lakers, with daughters on the team.
"They were successful," Heller said. "Their parents give them the right approach to prepare to be the best they can be."
Danbury (12-5, 7-5) is tied for fourth in the SBC River Division. It won 15 games Heller's first season, and seven each of the next three years.
Possibly more important than opponents being unable to overlook Danbury, the Lakers themselves no longer think of themselves as underdogs.
"That's a big step," he said of topping last year's win total and counting. "Learning to win games. Last year, some of the games we didn't win, we are this year. We'd like to do something in the tournament. Get into district and see what we can do.
"You have to get through sectional. The second season is approaching. They want to prove they belong with the top of the league group. That was one of the biggest things they reached for. We're getting awfully close."
This article originally appeared on Port Clinton News Herald: Danbury close to taking next step in SBC River Division