Winning finale: OCU defeats Valley Forge to take third place

CIRCLEVILLE - The Ohio Christian University women's basketball team wasn't where it wanted to be on Saturday before the national championship game of the National Christian College Athletic Association Division II tournament.

    But the clapping from inside the team's locker room following a 77-61 win over Valley Forge Christian College to take third-place in the tournament was a reminder that the Trailblazers followed last season's national runner-up finish by remaining one of the top teams in the country.

    "We set high goals coming into this season and into this tournament and we're disappointed we didn't reach them," OCU coach Mandy Wray said. "But I remember my first year here when we went 4-20 and had our best season ever at that point. "We've built off that point  and to make it into the last four teams of our national tournament two years in a row, says a lot about our girls, especially when we weren't playing at full strength in the tournament."

    A player who embodies where the OCU program has went under the direction of Wray is Sarah Peters, one of three seniors on the team.

    Peters was assigned the task of guarding Valley Forge's Amanda Reich, an all-American, and held her to four points on 1 of 9 shooting.

    "We made a decision to start Sarah to guard (Reich) and Sarah did a great job of shutting her down to 0-of-6 shooting in the first half to help get us going," Wray said.

    "Sarah was my first recruit here, and she has GONE from being on a team that loses by 30 to 40 points most nights to being on a team that wins by 30 to 40 points on most nights. She's an excellent player to coach and always gives 110%, and someone I'm always going to remember."

    The Trailblazers (31-7) also lose National Player of the Year Danielle Fleming, who scored 10 points before leaving with an injury with 1:59 left before halftime, and forward Angela Thorne, who had a monster game of 19 rebounds, nine assists and six points.

    "(Danielle) is probably the best offensive rebounder ever here," Wray said. "She is just so athletic and can attack the basket. She is the goofball on the team and is someone who lightens things up.  Thereis never a dull moment with Flem around. 

    "Angela is a true example of a class act of a person.  She has two kids, works a full-time job, is a full-time student and is 5-foot-8 and had almost 20 rebounds in this game.  he has brought maturity to our young teams the past few seasons. She is the type of player that may not have the highest statistics but her presence on the court is priceless.  We are really going to miss her."

    But the future also appears bright for the Trailblazers, who had 11 freshmen on the roster this year.

    Freshmen Sharonda Jones  (17 points) and Kaity Wyeth  (16) combined for 33 points against Valley Forge. The Trailblazers also had to play most of the tournament without sophomore point guard Courtney Schilling, due to injury.

    "I'm really excited about the future we have if we can keep everyone together," Wray said. "They all gained valuable experience this season and helped us. Even those who didn't play much (varsity) logged some valuable JV minutes."

    Valley Forge (21-13) jumped out to an 11-4 lead, but Ohio Christian closed the first half on a 32-11 run to take a 36-22 halftime lead.

    "We've been having trouble starting games here of late. I don't know if it was nerves or what, but we even went with a little different lineup to focus on defense to go with our best pressure defense," Wray said. "Once we relaxed, we did a much better job and went into the lead."

    OCU shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and stretched its lead to 21 points at several times.

    Valley Forge was led by Shawneal McKeither with 20 points and Talaya Woodall added 18.