In a way, Buckeye Central, 26-2, and Maria Stein Marion Local, 24-3, the No. 1 ranked team in the state, have a lot in common.
Both programs are steeped in a rich tradition of winning and have had their share of appearances in the state tournament. This will be the Buckettes 10th trip to the Final Four and the Flyers' sixth. The experienced teams will square off today at 2 p.m. in a Division IV state semifinal at the Nutter Center at Wright State University.
"They are tradition, their athletics in general in that entire area," Buckeye Central coach Bill Bonham said. "It's not just Marion Local. It's (last year's state champions) St. Henry and Jackson Center. The league is just loaded with schools, so that general area just feeds off each other. It's similar to here in the fact it's the same blood lines. It's the same families. They might leave and go off to college, but they bring their kids back to the community and they thrive off of it. Their athletics mean a lot to a small community, it's no different than here. We have a lot of community support. It's the same thing. Year in and year out they look forward to it and each generation wants to be a part of what the previous generation had."
Marion Local advanced to the state tournament with a three game win over rival Jackson Center, 25-17, 25-15, 28-26. The Flyers are led by the Division IV Player of the Year Claire Heitkamp and coach Amy Steininger was also named the Division IV Coach of the Year.
"I have the most respect in the world for Amy," Bonham said. "She is a friend of mine and I know what she does for her program. Even last year they lost to St. Henry who goes on to win the state. Even then Marion Local was one of the best programs around in the state of Ohio."
The Buckettes only lost one set during their march down the tournament trail in a four game district semifinal victory over Monroeville. Since then Buckeye Central has defeated each of its opponents in three sets.
"We've played, even with the two losses we had at the beginning of the season, we haven't done anything to out-wit our opponent," Bonham said. "We haven't used any big scouting report to beat an opponent. We've just done ball our way and outside of week one nobody has been able to stop us from doing that. If Marion Local is going to stop us, I want them to stop us playing our game. I don't want to play a different style ball. Why change it now?"