CHAMPION — Isabella Meyer may only be a sophomore, but she’s already accomplished so much in a short time for Champion.
The dual-sport athlete, who also plays softball and was the Golden Flashes’ second-leading hitter last spring as a freshman, has helped Champion to back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference-Grey Tier, as well as an outright softball conference title last year.
Now she can add back-to-back basketball sectional titles to her resume, as No. 24 scored 24 points to lead the Golden Flashes to a sixth consecutive team sectional title Saturday afternoon, defeating Columbiana 52-24.
“It’s a humongous win for us. Last year, we also faced them in sectionals, and it was a close game and we only won by a three-pointer,” Meyer said. “So to beat them by this much really shows how much progress we’ve made this year.”
Meyer first started playing basketball in the third grade and her passion for the game has only grown since.
“I was coached by my Dad and my friend’s Dad,” Meyer said. “I just love the game and I would never stop and I’ve been playing ever since.”
While she’s been one of three players for Champion averaging double figures in scoring this season, one of her lesser-known attributes that sets her apart has been her speed, according to Champion head coach Michael Cole.
“She’s probably the most athletic guard I’ve ever had,” Cole said. “Last year we noticed that and had her race (former player) Emma Gumont and finally had somebody to beat her because no one had beaten Emma before.”
“(Meyer)’s starting to get the different moves and finishes in there,” Cole added about her growth as a player. “She didn’t have that last year and it’s stuff she’s really worked hard on. My assistant coach (Keith Pruitt) does good work with our guards — helping her get where she needs to be.”
That speed was on full display against the Clippers, as Champion’s defense forced a myriad of turnovers in the backcourt that led to run outs for Meyer and fellow guard Ava Howell.
Columbiana was able to hang around in the first half and only trailed by eight at the break, but things got away from them in the second half.
“Our game plan was pretty simple, we were going to try to sag off one or two girls to create extra help in the lane to try to take shooters away…and it was working, but we just weren’t taking care of the basketball,” said Columbiana head coach David Crismon. “We need to be ball control, but we gave up too many possessions and offensively we were just out-of-sync.”
The third quarter ended up being pivotal as the Flashes outscored the Clippers 22-3. Six different players scored a bucket for Champion during the period, as the Flashes were able to spread the floor and find the open player against Columbiana’s defense.
Meyer had seven of her 24 during the third quarter and Lorinda Dodrill hit a pair of three-pointers for the Flashes.
“During practice, we’ve really tried to focus on ball movement,” Meyer said. “We figured that I was going to get face guarded because they came to scout us, so we really tried to do a lot of ball screens and make sure our shooters were open.”
Crismon said his group talked about their own offense at halftime — specifically getting better possessions and trying to reduce turnovers. Facing only an eight-point deficit, a few early second-half baskets could change the game, but to no avail.
“Right off the bat, we turn it over and give up a basket,” Crismon said. “Then we don’t find a girl and they hit a three and with a team that’s a little fragile — we don’t come from behind — that’s about the worst start we could’ve had in the third quarter. Our goal was to cut it to at least 4-6 by the end of the third, but once it snowballed to 15, 18, we’re just not a catch-up type of team.”
Champion will now face No. 6 seed Kirtland Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the district semifinals at Lakeview High School in Cortland.
For the Clippers, their season comes to a close. After losing a significant number of seniors a year ago, Columbiana still managed to finish 15-7 with a young roster.
“This ending isn’t really the story of our season,” Crismon said. “We played a ton of young girls, so I feel good about our future. I hate to see the seniors go out like this — I know they wanted more, but Champion is a good program. They’ve got good, young kids. They have shooters, they play confident and they’re scrappy. They have a little bit of everything.”
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