Feb. 27—Perusing a preseason roster, it would have been easy to assume the 2021 Brookfield High girls' basketball team was a year away from being a powerful postseason presence. But while many — if not most — have been surprised by Brookfield, Head Coach Ken Forsythe is not.
"Their hard work pays off, and I keep tellin' 'em that. I'm just glad that they're successful and it's actually showing," Forsythe summarized.
Brookfield (17-3) will battle South Range (21-4) in a 1 p.m. Saturday matinee for the OHSAA Division III Region 9 Northeast 1 Sectional/District tournament title.
A year ago the Lady Warriors advanced to the tourney semifinals before being eliminated by Cornerstone Christian. To advance to this year's title tilt Brookfield beat Crestview (45-34) — a team that swept the Lady Warriors during the home-and-home regular-season series. In the other semifinal South Range routed East Palestine (70-25).
Owing to offseason workouts, Forsythe had the foresight to realize he had something special this season, even if it is a year ahead of schedule. This season he has started 3 sophomores, a junior and a senior.
"As soon as we were able to open up the gym in June (owing to coronavirus-related health/safety guidelines) we were up there four days a week shooting ... in the weight room. I had fifteen-to-eighteen kids every workout in June and July," Forsythe related.
That work-ethic buoyed Brookfield; plus, another building block has been the rugged Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference competition.
"We played Division IV last year; we're playin' Division III this year, which is bigger schools; not sayin' it's better competition, but it's bigger schools. And for the lineup we throw out there every night, we're always on the 'outside,'" Forsythe said.
"Losing to (Crestview) twice was kind've a setting point for us," the 3rd-year coach continued. "It kind've made the girls work a little harder and they wanted it a little bit more. .. And we hit some shots that we didn't do the first two games.
"I was doin' the stats," Forsythe recalled, "and after we lost to (Crestview) the second time Katie Logan comes into my office. I showed her the stat sheet, and there was a bunch of zeroes on it — shots missed. And she looked at me and said, 'Coach, we gave one away last night,' and I said, 'Yeah, we did, Katie.' She's the only one that saw it.
"Every time I brought it up to the team, I'd ask Katie and she'd say, 'Yeah, you don't wanna see that (stat sheet),'" a chuckling Forsythe related, adding, "It was good that one of 'em saw it and was able to get the message across to the others."
In the semis, sophomore Sophia Hook had a 24-point, 13-rebound double-double, while her junior backcourt mate Audrey Reardon recorded 10 points and dished out a handful of dimes. Logan and guard Katie Gibson also are sophomores. Post Autumn Sirochman is the lone starting senior. Brookfield also has been bolstered by the recent return from injury of junior Anna Reichart.
"(Hook) makes us go, but the other girls fall in place, too. It was a total team effort," Forsythe said regarding the Crestview contest.
South Range rolled to a 13-1 record in the Northeast Eight Conference, and Forsythe cited the Rebels' schedule. The lone losses occurred to Shaker Heights-Laurel (72-51), Archbishop Hoban (92-85, OT), Poland Seminary (45-35, later avenged, 35-25), and Macedonia-Nordonia (45-40).
"They're a whole, different 'animal' than we're used to," Forsythe began. "They're probably the best team in the area ... they're bigger and stronger, probably, than any team we've seen this year. They played an unbelievable schedule ... a bunch of Division I schools. They're real well coached by Jeff Fishel — he does a great job."
The Raiders are led by 6-foot senior frontliner Izzy Lamparty, an NCAA Division I recruit, according to Forsythe. Lamparty leads the Raiders, averaging 20.6 points, 10 rebounds and 3.7 steals per game (according to MaxPreps). she and her 5-8 sophomore sister Gabby (10 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 4.6 steals per game) are joined by junior Alexis Giles (13 ppg, 4 rpg., 2.1 apg., 3.8 spg.), and senior guard Bree Kohler (5.1 ppg., 3.1 rpg., 3.6 apg., 4.5 spg).
"(The Raiders) do press a lot; hopefully, we can get through it. I like my guards against their press," Forsythe said. "Again, we've gotta take care of the ball. We can't have that 'deer in headlights' look.
"It's gonna be a battle, so we've gotta come ready to go," Forsythe forecasted. "But I'll take my young guns every day of the week against anybody, and we'll see what happens.
"We're playing it up to (the Lady Warriors), sayin' we've just gotta be ourselves, and hopefully go from there. It's a big step for them. The only good thing about it is that we're goin' to another school's place; we're not goin' to Struthers Field House where there would be thousands of people. That might be a good thing for us, not bein' in the limelight.'"
Built, in part, by Forsythe's predecessors Tim Filipovich and Shawn Hammond, the Lady Warriors have a proud program on the hardwood.
This season's success lends to that legacy, and Forsythe feels could fuel future squads.
"It's huge, it's somethin' to build on. You know, no matter what happens from here on out, for next year it's somethin' that we can say, 'Hey, we've gotta take that next step.' Last year we were in the district semis; we lost. This year we're in the district finals. Hopefully — this year, too — but next year I think there's a couple more big steps.
"The girls are a joy to coach. They come every day ready to go, all fifteen of them. And I tell 'em every day: 'This is about all fifteen of you; this is not about the ones playin' right now.' It's all fifteen of them that make us go at practice, and give us what we need to do."