Southeastern girls claim OHC South title after 16-year drought

SOUTH CHARLESTON — After a 16-year drought, the Southeastern High School girls basketball program are finally Ohio Heritage Conference champions.

The Trojans (15-5, 11-5) won the OHC South division title for the first time since the conference expanded into two divisions in 2018, finishing one game ahead of Greenon (16-6, 10-6), Cedarville (13-7, 10-6) and Greeneview (13-7, 10-6). Southeastern last won the OHC championship in 2008, sharing the title with West Liberty-Salem.

The Trojans lost to Cedarville 46-45 in their conference finale on Saturday, but the Indians lost to OHC North champion Mechanicsburg 67-31 on Monday to give Southeastern the outright South division title.

The Southeastern girls program won five OHC titles between 2001 and 2008. However, the year before Trojans coach Matt Harner arrived in 2018, the program had just 11 players, he said. Southeastern has steadily worked its way up the standings over the last three years, finishing second last year and finally winning the title this winter.

“It’s pretty cool to see it grow into what it has,” Harner said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity. It’s been a heck of a six years, but it’s been pretty cool and pretty fun.”

The key, said Trojans senior Layni Bonifay, has been team chemistry.

“It’s about working together,” she said. “The last couple years we haven’t had a strong connection between everybody and this year is probably the strongest we’ve had in many years.”

Bonifay and senior Mary Ann Sulfridge have played a key role in the team’s success, Harner said.

“It starts with those two,” he said. “They’ve been such a huge piece of the puzzle as far as providing that team chemistry and leadership on and off the court. It’s been a huge reason why we’ve been so successful and why we’ve been able to bond cohesively as a unit.”

Trojans junior Brooke Nelson leads the OHC in scoring at 19.6 points per game — a more than five-point increase from her sophomore season. She’s also averaging 4.8 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 2.8 assists per game for the Trojans.

“It’s about focusing on the little things, focusing on taking good shots and looking for teammates at the same time,” Nelson said. “We’ve really played together as a team this year.”

Sulfridge is leading the OHC in field goal percentage at 56.1 percent per game, while sophomore Kaylee Billet ranks fifth in the OHC at 3.4 assists per game.

The Trojans have also been more resilient this winter, Nelson said.

“We’ve really tried harder in practice and even with the losses, we’ve said we can get the next one, we’ll focus on the next one,” she said.

With Nelson sidelined due to injury, Southeastern beat Catholic Central 43-39 on Jan. 27 to clinch at least a share of the title.

“It’s nerve-wracking watching them, but they played good defense and did what they needed to do to win,” Nelson said.

The Trojans also hope to make a deep tournament run, earning the No. 4 seed in a D-IV Southwest North 2 sectional at Versailles. The Trojans will play Ansonia at 2 p.m. Feb. 17 and the winner will play 10th-seeded Botkins at 6 p.m. on Feb. 21. If the seedings play out, the Trojans could face Jackson Center in a district semifinal game on Feb. 28.

However, the Trojans face two tough games before heading into the postseason. They’ll travel to Division IV 10th-ranked Legacy Christian Academy (17-2) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday before hosting Central Buckeye Conference North Division leader Jonathan Alder (12-7) on Senior Night at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

No matter how the season ends, Bonifay can’t wait to lift the OHC South Division trophy with her teammates.

“I’ll never forget this team,” Bonifay said. “I definitely have a sister type bond with everyone on this team. I don’t think everyone realizes how hard we’ve worked this year. I think seeing that trophy is going to show everyone our hard work has paid off.”

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