By RICK THORP
Times Leader Sports Writer
This morning's opener of the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Girls Basketball Tournament pits the established veteran against the new kid on the block.
Fort Frye, winners of three of the four OVAC Tournaments, battles Linsly, making it's first finals appearance, for the Class 3A title at 10 a.m. inside Ohio University Eastern's Health and Physical Education Center.
''I don't know if having played in the championship game before will have that much of a difference,'' veteran Cadets head coach Dan Liedtke said.
''Playing the first game of the day in the morning, that's always tough.''
The Cadets won the 3A championship the past two years. Prior to that, when the OVAC was a four conference league,
Fort Frye won the 2A crown in 2010. They fell to Shadyside in the 2011 Final.
''Every time I talk to a coach or someone about Fort Frye I just hear about their fantastic man-to-man defense,'' Linsly head coach Erica Hall said. ''They're known for their defense and their discipline on offense.
''They're a very patient team and very fundamentally sound.''
Linsly (18-1) and Fort Frye (15-3) both posted convincing semifinal victories Thursday night against Magnolia and Shenandoah, respectively. With wintry weather producing a quick turnaround, neither team had much time to prepare.
''I really don't know much about them,'' Liedtke admitted. ''Going into a big game like this whichever team plays their style the best will probably do the best.''
Something will have to give. Linsly has won 18 straight after losing at Steubenville to start the season.
It avenged that loss a few weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the Beverly-based Cadets have lost three games to Parkersburg South and Huntington St. Joe, a pair of West Virginia state powers, along with Rosecrans, ranked highly in Ohio's Division IV?state poll.
For Linsly, this is its state championship.
Not members of the WVSSAC, an OVAC title is always at the top of any Cadets team's wish list. Linsly hasn't won an OVAC girls' hoops title, tournament or not.
''For us, this is our ultimate goal,'' Hall said. ''For us to achieve this would be awesome.''
This year's Cadets are a mix of veteran savvy and youthful exuberance.
Running the point is one of the team's two seniors - J.J. Jackson.
''She sets the tone defensively and controls our offense,'' Hall said.
From there, Linsly has a plethora of options. The remainder of the starting lineup includes junior Anni Vehola, sophomore Morgan Brunner and a pair of fabulous freshmen in Vivian Allison and Jazzie Orth.
''J.J. and Morgan are our only returning starters,'' Hall noted.
The Cadets also receive contributions off the bench from folks like junior Abby Petho and sophomore Paiton Knowles.
''We've really been improving on being able to rely on each other,'' Hall said. ''Jazzie and Viv have helped take some of the pressure off Morgan.''
Hall added the team has matured, especially during its winning streak.
''I don't think there's been much a wow factor for us, really,'' she said. ''We just try to take things one game at a time.
''Throughout our success there hasn't been a focus on one game, rather on what we've built throughout the season.''
Liedtke has taken a somewhat similar approach with his team.
''I'm pretty happy with where we're at,'' said Liedtke, who had to replace four starters from last season's squad that advanced to the Division III Ohio State Tournament before falling to Columbus Africentric in the semifinal.
''One of our goals every year is to get to the (OVAC) championship game and our girls have done a very nice job in getting back.''
Leading the way for the Cadets is one of the team's two seniors, Brooke Borich. Averaging nearly 19 points per game, Borich poured in 25 Thursday night against the Zeps.
''Borich is a great shooter and defending her will be a key,'' Hall said.
Rounding out the starting lineup is the team's other senior, Shawntell Parsons, along with juniors Megan Liedtke, who is the middle daughter of the head coach, and Michelle Adkins and sophomore Alexis Enochs.
''We pride ourselves on defense,'' Dan Liedtke said. ''We really work hard on fundamentals. I think were very team oriented and I think that's a key to our success.
The system is the one I ran with the boys and it takes a team effort for it to work right.''
After the OVAC, the Fort Frye Cadets will enter Ohio tournament play.