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Ohio girls basketball leaves Columbus for Dayton

The University of Dayton Arena will be the home of the OHSAA girls basketball state tournament for the next three seasons. The arena has hosted 125 NCAA tournament games. (Photo by Dayton Daily News)

COLUMBUS — Coach Walt DeShields has guided the West Branch girls basketball team to the state semifinals twice in the last five years.

He doesn’t mind that the OHSAA announced Tuesday the girls basketball state tournament is heading to the University of Dayton Arena the next three years.

“It’s not about where you play, it’s more about the journey getting there,” DeShields said.

UD Arena has hosted 125 NCAA tournament games. For the past 19 years, the NCCA tournament began at the University of Dayton Arena with the First Four.

“Its not a big deal,” DeShields said. “The major thing every season is you put down your goals to work hard, come together as a team, win a conference championship, then a district title. At the bottom of the list is a state championship because it’s so far away.”

Renovated in 2019, UD Arena has a seating capacity of 13,000 and has played host to many OHSAA basketball tournament games along with Atlantic 10 Conference tournament games. It is the home of the University of Dayton Flyers men’s and women’s basketball teams.

DeShields said he has not visited UD Arena, but went to a baseball game on campus and saw the state volleyball tournament at the Nutter Center nearby.

“It’s a little longer drive, but it would be well worth it if we get there,” DeShields said.

Ashley Armstrong led West Branch to the Division II state title in 2004 before embarking on a successful basketball career at Dayton. And current point guard Carly Scarpitti, who led the Warriors to the Division II state semifinals in March, will be attending classes at Dayton this fall.

“We are very excited to sign a three-year agreement for our member schools to experience UD Arena,” OHSAA executive director Jerry Snodgrass said. “Southwest Ohio loves and supports basketball and the people at the University of Dayton have made it clear that they really want this state tournament on their campus. We believe that we have found a great home for the girls basketball state tournament.”

“When we went in 2015 and played at the Schottenstein Center there were 6,000 fans and it didn’t seem like it because it’s so much bigger,” DeShields said.

Then the Warriors reached the state tournament in March before the tournament was canceled less than 16 minutes from tipping off at St. John Arena due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Probably a lot of kids dream of playing at Ohio State,” DeShields said. “I had a feeling they were going to move it somewhere else.

“I thought they would look for something smaller, about 8-10,000. When we went down to Cincinnati for camp last summer, we went to Shoemaker Arena. It’s a lot smaller than it was. We even mentioned this would be a great place for a state tournament.”

The atmosphere for the games leading up to the state tournament is sometimes better.

“When we played at Barberton (for regionals), it’s packed and it’s loud,” DeShields said. “When you go to the next level, you would like it to be that way, but it wasn’t in those big arenas. … I guarantee if you ask the kids, they don’t care where they play.”

More than 10 million fans have visited UD Arena since it opened in 1969.

“We’re very proud that the OHSAA has entrusted us to host the girls basketball state tournament at the University of Dayton Arena for the next three years,” said Scott DeBolt, Senior Associate Athletics Director at the University of Dayton and Executive Director of UD Arena. “The same ingredients that make UD Arena the ideal place for the NCAA First Four — community support and excitement for the game of basketball, our facilities, staff and tournament hosting experience — will help create lifelong memories for the young women who come to Dayton to play in the state tournament and their school communities.”

The spring sports season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic and schools have been online teaching since mid-March.

“Right now Dayton is so far off,” DeShields said. “We’re worried about if we can play at all this summer. People are wondering if we will come back to school.”

State notes

• The Warriors have been posting basketball workout videos online and having Zoom meetings once a week, “so we can stay in touch,” DeShields said.

“It’s tough. We’re not going to have a June. That’s a big month for us answering a lot of questions.”

• DeShields said the Warriors are still thinking back to that Thursday on March 12 when they were warming up for the state semifinals before the tournament was canceled.

“You always think about, it’s two months out,” he said. “It’s just the disappointment of not getting the opportunity. You’ll always going to remember that. Us getting there and the way we were playing was really exciting.”

“You always think about it and talk about it. Over time, I’m sure it will slowly fade away.”

• The Warriors are looking at a banquet somewhere down the road to honor the team.

“We’re looking forward to having a banquet,” DeShields said. “That’s really important to the girls, to honor them and all their accomplishments.

“A great group of girls and great memories. A lot of them talk about what we did last summer. That’s all part of it.”

• In the 45 years of the OHSAA girls basketball state tournament, Ohio State University has hosted it 44 times (all but 1986 when it was at the University of Akron). However, the OHSAA said there are now a limited number of dates available to use OSU’s Jerome Schottenstein Center or St. John Arena in March.

• The 2021 girls basketball state tournament is scheduled for March 11-13. The 2021 OHSAA boys basketball state tournament will be played at St. John Arena from March 18-20. The OHSAA said there is currently no host site in place for the boys basketball state tournament in 2022.

• Dayton’s Welcome Stadium, located across the parking lot from UD Arena, hosted the OHSAA state track and field meet from 1999-2003 before moving to its current home at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus.

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