Winter horse race coming down stretch

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Like a horse race, the winter sports season has made the turn and is heading for the back stretch.

As we make our way to the finish line, some things are going as planned and some pleasant surprises have also come along.

The West Holmes Lady Knights have played better and better each game, showing they are more than just Laina Snyder. Rachelle Morrison pumped in 24 points in an impressive showing at the Classic in the Country (CitC), helping West Holmes rally for a comeback win over Columbus Africentric.

The girls then went out and thoroughly thumped a very good North Canton Hoover squad.

The Knights have earned the No. 1 ranking in the state, having deposed a pair of reigning state champions (Hathaway Brown and Africentric). Of course, rankings mean little if the team doesn't continue to perform once the second season starts. The tournaments tip off in mid-February, only a few short weeks away.

The Hiland girls are playing great basketball these days.

"All Gina (Regina Hochstetler) did was earn herself a Div. I scholarship," said Hiland coach Dave Schlabach, after her six 3-pointers and 30-point performance in the finale of the Classic, a stunning win by the Lady Hawks over a very good and big Uniontown Lake squad.

Hiland vanquished a pair of bigger teams in the CitC, getting outstanding post defense from Jasmine Goings, as well as Natalie Nickol and Rachel Horn. Kendra Schlabach has picked up her offensive effort, giving the Hawks another capable scorer, and the win over Garaway this past week all but secured another Inter-Valley Conference championship for Hiland.

On the boys' side of things, the Hiland boys have put together a 13-2 record through the first 15 games, losing only to Garaway and reigning state champion Dunbar. The Hawks will get a chance to avenge their loss to the Pirates this Friday at home.

Todd Ropp is having a huge season, averaging 13 points and eight boards for the Hawks. Jordan Yoder is next, averaging almost nine points and Lucas Mast has come off the bench to give the Hawks some instant offense, increasing his scoring average to almost seven points per game.

Brennan Coil is playing well inside, averaging almost six points and five boards a game.

The amazing thing about the Hawks' success so far this season is how much this young group of players has matured and developed as the season has gone along.

It also says volumes about Mark Schlabach's abilities as a coach. This guy just wins and does not accept anything less.

West Holmes discovered what a soothing balm sports can be, as Donnie Dowling turned to his teammates in a time of tragedy to help him get through the loss of his little brother in a car accident. Dowling was driving his younger brother to school on Thursday when the car skidded off the road, struck a tree and embankment and rolled over.

At Wooster, the day after the tragic accident, the Generals' crowd gave Dowling a standing ovation before and after the game, in which the 6-foot-6 senior scored five points and grabbed three rebounds in a 57-50 win over the Generals.

Dowling was grateful for the support from his teammates and the community.

The Knights have had to overcome an injured ankle to star guard Brady Arnold, but his absence has forced other players to step up, and Grant Hay and Michael DeWitt have both been picking up their games of late, which will be beneficial down the stretch.

The Knights wrestlers had a disappointing showing at the inaugural State Duals last week at Claymont, falling to New Philadelphia, but they responded with a resounding win at their own invitational tournament on Saturday. Max Rohskopf was the tournament MVP and 170-pounder Tyler McElroy earned his first tournament win as West Holmes placed in 13 of the 14 weight classes.

The Knights will need to have that kind of production this weekend when they head to Clear Fork for the Ohio Cardinal Conference meet. Lexington is easily considered the favorite to take home the title.

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