Hoop dreams are alive and well this season at Wellington High School.
On Saturday, the girls varsity squad clinched a share of the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division crown with a 57-56 win over Lutheran West, the program’s first conference title since a Lorain County Conference championship in 1989.
The win put the girls’ record at 15-2 (13-0 PAC) and also provided a sense of retribution for the Dukes after falling to the Longhorns in last season’s sectional final.
The boys sit at 14-2 (10-2 PAC) and moved closer to claiming their own conference title on Friday with a 82-74 win at home over Brookside. On Jan. 30, a 51-49 victory over Buckeye gave the boys sole possession of first place in the Stars Division.
A PAC title would be the third for the boys since 2010.
Senior Alexis Lehmkuhl’s 15 points per game and sophomore Jalen Gibbs’ 14 have led the way for the Dukes. Gibbs’ 19 points and 15 rebounds were both game-highs in the team’s win over Lutheran West.
As a three-year starter, Lehmkuhl has seen drastic improvement first-hand as the Dukes have gone from an afterthought in the PAC her sophomore year to finishing 15-9 last season and earning a spot in the sectional final.
“We’ve been practicing hard and building this program up for years,” she said. “It hasn’t just come naturally. We’ve all worked hard for it. This isn’t just great for us, it’s also great for the community. We’re just going to keep playing our game. You have to keep pushing and pushing as the season goes on.”
“I believe our defense and having three six-foot girls on our team has been key,” said Gibbs, whose two foul shots on Saturday with just over a minute remaining clinched the win. “We’ve been meshing well on the floor and getting along really well. When you have a size advantage, you dictate the pace of the game. We get fast break layups all the time.”
Eighth-year boys coach Dan Gundert said joint exercise sessions between the boys and girls over the summer have greatly benefited both teams.
“I’d agree that both teams are breaking out around the same time here,” he said. “A lot of credit has to go to the kids. They bought in to these new programs. There’s leaders buying in and doing what they need to do. NST Sports Performance came in here and really showed them some innovative things to improve speed and agility.”
Senior Max Joppeck has once again spearheaded the Dukes’ offensive attack, registering 21 points per game in conference play. Key contributions have also come from Colton Schmidt (13 points per game in the PAC), Ryan Whitaker, Nathaniel Shelton, and Noah Diermeyer.
Girls coach Nathan Morris, now in his third year, was succeeded by Gundert as varsity boys coach in 2010.
Morris thinks a 49-43 loss to Norwalk on Dec. 18 lit a fuse for his team and got momentum rolling toward what could become the program’s most successful season in decades.
“Norwalk is a very good team and won the district in Division II last year,” he said. “They were quick, physical, and initially jumped all over us to the tune of a 20-point lead. Our girls pulled together at halftime and kept battling. We cut it to four in the second half and gave ourselves a chance to win. They proved to themselves they could play at that level, and knowing that has been very important for them.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.