Girls Basketball Captures Third Straight TAAC Title

The 2015-16 high school girls basketball season was satisfying for Ottawa Hills coach Sean Mercer in more ways than one.

For starters, the Green Bears captured their third straight Toledo Area Athletic Conference (TAAC) championship. The Bears didn't get far in the postseason, but they had already made a strong statement during the regular season, going 17-5 overall and 16-0 in the conference.

"I enjoy coaching when my team is an underdog instead of having great expectations," Mercer said. "This year we were being questioned and doubted by many. Everyone would say that we had Olivia (VanSlooten), but all that other talent graduated. This team bought into proving people wrong and did not want to give up the TAAC championship."

Van Slooten, a senior post, led the team in scoring and was named the TAAC Player of the Year and was an academic all-conference selection. She also made the All-District 7 first team and earned special mention All-Ohio honors. Van Slooten blocked 80 shots on the season and became the seventh girl in school history to score more than 1,000 career points.

"Olivia had her best year," Mercer said. "We graduated five really good players that all contributed a year ago, and seven of the nine league coaches voted Tiffin Calvert to win the league. Many people thought we would be a .500 team, but the girls grew up quickly and ultimately surrounded Olivia with a solid team."

VanSlooten, a four-year starter, will attend High Point (N.C.) University in the fall. Senior Kelsi Berry was the only other player entering the season who had extensive varsity experience.

"We knew we had a chance to be solid again when your post is arguably the best post player in school history," Mercer said. "Kelsi had one of the best single seasons ever."

Berry was named first-team All-TAAC and honorable mention all-district, while junior Nadine Ayad and sophomore Ariel Cummings were honorable mention All-TAAC selections. Berry, Cummings and junior Morgan Billstein were honorable mention all-district, while the academic all-conference team included Berry, Cummings, Ayad, Billstein and senior Maddie Beck.

"Ariel surprised everyone with her improvement," Mercer said. "She may become one of the best post players anywhere. Morgan, Nadine, and (sophomore) Ellie Westmeyer were better than most expected. (Freshman) Sophie Summers was unknown and proved her worth. All of those things equal more wins than expected. This team had great chemistry."

Berry was Ottawa Hills' top perimeter shooter and led the team in made 3-pointers and free throw percentage, and she was the second leading scorer.

"She had one of the sweetest looking jump shots you will ever see in a high school girl," Mercer said. "Most high school players have ups and downs during the season, but not Kelsi. She continued to get better and more confident as the season progressed."

The 6-foot-3 Cummings, an honorable mention all-district pick, blocked 60 shots, led the Bears in rebounding and tied Berry as the second leading scorer.

"She became very good at defending our basket and was a strong shot blocker," Mercer said. "If she works as hard as Olivia always did in the offseason, she could be a huge Division I recruit."

Ayad was one of three guards who replaced the graduated Allie Dewire, and ended up becoming the team's second best 3-point shooter. Mercer said Ayad got better as the season progressed.

"She had very limited playing time until this season," the coach said. "She is a very strong, smart athlete and a nice perimeter shooter. She's set up for a nice senior year next year."

Billstein took over at point guard this season and became a floor leader and solid defender, Mercer said. Westmeyer also played point guard and led the Bears in assists and steals.

"She had no varsity experience coming into the season," Mercer said. "She was one of our best on-the-ball defenders and has a promising future."

Beck did not see a ton of court time but was voted a team captain and knew her role, while the 5-foot-9 Summers will be counted on to have a strong sophomore season next year.

"Usually a team's success comes from having strong guards," Mercer said. "We had a bunch of rookie guards that had to learn and grow up fast. Losing Olivia and Kelsi will be a crushing blow, but we're hoping that our guards will be much better. They are determined to have great summers and have much better seasons next year."

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