MASON - Mason girls’ basketball coach Rob Matula addressed the obvious after Saturday’s win over Lakota West in the regional final.
The Comets were exhilarated to defeat the Firebirds during the teams’ third meeting this season and advance to Columbus.
“Well, I’m glad we got over the hump,” Matula said. “I get the sense they wouldn’t let this be the end-all, be-all. I think the girls are focused.”
But, they know they aren’t finished. There are no signs of a letdown as Mason travels north Friday afternoon.
Mason (25-2), ranked No. 5 in the season’s final Associated Press state poll, plays unranked Solon (19-8) in a Division I state semifinal at 8 p.m. Friday at Ohio State University’s Jerome Schottenstein Center.
The winner plays No. 1 Wadsworth (26-1) or Reynoldsburg (23-5) in the state championship game at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
The state semifinals will be heard on the OHSAA Radio Network. The championship games will televised live on SportsTime Ohio.
The Comets (25-2) are making their first trip to the state semifinals since 2000 when Mason won the Division I state championship. This is the fourth time Mason has been in the state tournament (2000 state champs, 1999 state runner-up and 1997 state runner-up).
For all the attention Saturday’s regional final received, including the fact that Mason defeated its Greater Miami Conference rival, the focus quickly turned to Solon.
“We’ve been playing pretty well throughout the tournament,” Matula said Monday. “We had an opportunity and took full advantage of it.”
Tom Jenkins, director of the Ohio Girls' Basketball Report, believes Friday's game will be close. He said they keys will be to watch Solon against Mason's frontcourt and see how Mason plays against Solon's backcourt.
"I think Solon matches up extremely well with Mason," Jenkins said.
Mason’s length has been a solid advantage this season, including last weekend against Lakota West. The Comets have also perfected a number of zone defenses — giving opposing teams fits.
Mason held Lakota West to 25.5 percent shooting from the field Saturday.
“They’re really long and athletic so we know it’s going to be a tough match,” Solon coach Trish Kruse said.
Friday night will be the second meeting for Mason and Solon this season. Mason won 57-39 Nov. 28 in its third game after losing to Lakota West four days before. Jenkins says both teams are different and doesn't see an 18-point game Friday night.
“We’re going to be very familiar with each other,” Matula said. “It’s going to be about a team that makes a break and executes well.”
Mason has been led by a number of players and the depth allows the Comets to go 10 deep if needed.
The leadership starts with senior 6-3 post Lauren Van Kleunen (13.1 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game). The Marquette signee is also capable of handling the ball up the court and shooting from beyond the 3-point arc.
“She is a big part of the reason why we are doing well,” Matula said.
Van Kleunen is also the established vocal leader on the team. She was 2 years old the last time Mason was in Columbus.
"It means a lot," Van Kleunen said of the upcoming state trip. "We have to thank our past players for this. If it wasn't them, we wouldn't have this opportunity right now."
Senior point guard Jailyn Mason (Arkansas signee) averages 9.0 points, 4.8 assists and 3.0 rebounds. Matula described her as the “floor general.”
“She does a phenomenal job in the open court,” Matula said. “She’s kind of our engine when we need it.”
Junior wing Samari Mowbray (9.2 ppg) and freshman wing Samantha Puisis (9.6 ppg) have also been excellent this postseason.
Senior forward Mariah Campbell averages 5.4 points and 6.0 rebounds. Her strength has been a significant asset.
“She has been rock steady in defending the other teams’ post players,” Matula said.
Solon is making its third trip to the state tournament. Solon is led by junior guard Dee Bekelja (17.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.7 apg), a DePaul commit, and junior guard Alexis Stover (12.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg).
Sophomore 6-2 center Valencia Myers (6.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg) gives Solon a solid inside game. Sophomore 5-foot point guard Mariah Modkins (5.6 ppg, 3.6 apg) is the daughter of San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins.
“Since the tournament run we’ve been playing really good defense and have shared the ball well,” Kruse said.
Coach: Rob Matula
PPG: 61.6. OPP: 32.0
Senior G Jailyn Mason
Junior F Samari Mowbray
Freshman G Sammie Puisis
Senior F Lauren Van Kleunen
Senior F Mariah Campbell
Coach: Trish Kruse
PPG: 59.4. OPP: 52.0
Junior G Alexis Stover
Sophomore PG Mariah Modkins
Sophomore C Valencia Myers
Sophomore G Gabby Mitchell
Junior G Dee Bekelja