As a grizzled veteran of the high school coaching game, Oneida’s Marv West isn’t easily moved to excitement, even in big games.
But when he worked his way to the crow’s nest inside Roane State Community College gymnasium a full 15 minutes after his team’s 62-44 win over Wartburg in the District 3-A championship game on Monday, he was still visibly ecstatic.
And why not? The Lady Indians, who earned their first district crown since 2016, didn’t beat just any team. They completely dismantled Wartburg’s zone defense in the second half, earning an 18-point win over a team that had won 19 consecutive games and had lost just three all season — a team ranked No. 8 in Tennessee Class A basketball by the Associated Press.
And they did it by overcoming one of the ugliest first halves imaginable.
“I’m just so proud of these girls,” West said. “They were super fun to coach in that second half.”
If West didn’t say anything about the first half being fun, it’s because it wasn’t. The Lady Indians struggled to just get the ball up the floor, committing 19 turnovers by the time the first half buzzer sounded. And when Oneida did get shots up, they weren’t falling. The Lady Indians were shooting only 30 percent at halftime. West was visibly frustrated, turning to his bench more than once as he looked for a combination of players that worked, never seeming to find it.
And, yet, Oneida had a one-point lead on Wartburg at halftime.
“It felt like 100 (turnovers),” West said of the first half. “And we were up. That’s what I told the girls. I said, ‘Guys, all we have to do is cut down the turnovers and we’re gonna be fine, because we’re gonna get good looks.’”
They did get good looks, and they were fine.
Junior post Katelyn Stiltner had her best game of the season — and one of the best of her career. She scored 11 points in the third quarter en route to a 21-point, 9-rebound performance that saw her named the tournament’s most valuable player.
“How big was Katelyn Stiltner?” West said. “She looked like I felt like she played last year.”
That was one of the biggest storylines within the game. West has battled a painful knee all season, after overcoming illness earlier in the season. She’s going to have offseason surgery to repair a meniscus tear, but on Monday she certainly looked 100 percent.
“She’s played through the pain all year,” West said. “When we worked the ball around tonight, that zone just parted and she was right there to finish.”
After all of those first half turnovers, Oneida didn’t have a single turnover in the third quarter, and had only three for the entirety of the second half.
Point guard Chloe Terry found her redemption by nailing a 3-point shot to start the third quarter, setting the tone for a 13-0 run by the Lady Indians. Later, she hit another 3-pointer to close the quarter, capping a 24-7 run. She was one of four Oneida players named to the all-tournament team.
“That’s so uncharacteristic of Chloe,” West said of the first half struggles against Wartburg’s defense. “I told her at halftime, ‘You’re the best point guard in this district.’ And she is. I mean that. I wouldn’t trade her for anybody. She’s not flashy, but she’s been steady all year, and you saw it in the second half. She ran the show and, man, we looked good when she did it.”
West has won several district titles across the 20 years that he’s been at the helm of the Oneida program. But this one likely meant a little extra because it was the first one he’s won with his daughter. Kendyl West is a senior on the Oneida squad, and was named the regular season player of the year in District 3-A. She also bounced back from a tough first half in Monday’s game, finishing with a double-double — with 10 points and 11 rebounds — to earn a spot on the all-tournament team. But West’s most important statistic may have been assists. She had five of them, all by feeding the ball to Stiltner in the second half. Seniors Chelsea Newport and Harley Boyatt also made the all-tournament team. The last senior in the bunch, Jayden Thomas, didn’t, but could have. She had 13 points in Monday’s game, including six in the fourth quarter.
On the flip side, Oneida’s defense was a key. That was especially true in the first half, when the Lady Indians couldn’t seem to manage much offensively. Wartburg had 11 first half turnovers and shot just 30 percent.
The defense didn’t slump in the second half. A key to the game was Oneida holding Wartburg standout Madison Williams to only four points. An all-state-caliber player, Williams finished just one vote shy of West for the player of the year honor that was awarded by the district’s coaches. But in Monday’s game, Oneida was able to limit her to only a single field goal.
“People told me Katelyn couldn’t guard her,” West said. “But tonight she did. She does present us matchup problems, but at the same time I don’t want to take Katelyn off the floor because she gives them their toughest matchup problem, too.”
It seems almost surreal, given Oneida’s run to the state tournament last year, but Monday’s win over Wartburg allowed the Lady Indians’ heralded senior class to pick up hardware for the first time. The Lady Indians made the district championship game last year but came up short against Midway. They later fell to the Green Wave again in the Region 2-A championship game. In 2017 and 2018, Oneida was defeated in the semifinals — by Sunbright in 2017 and by Wartburg the following year.
With one plaque under their belt, Oneida will be hoping to add to the trophy case before the ride ends. The region championship is even more important than the district title, because with the plaque in the region tournament finale comes the right to host a substate game. Although the Lady Indians went on the road to beat a state-ranked Cosby team in last year’s sectional to earn a berth in the state tournament, a substate game at home often represents the best route to Murfreesboro. And, if the next nine days go as many will expect them to, Monday’s game won’t be the final meeting between Oneida and Wartburg. A potential rematch looms in the region title game on March 4 in Chattanooga.
“I told the girls, enjoy this one today and tomorrow and then it’s over,” West said. “The region championship is even bigger than this. If you can get that region championship and get the game at home in the substate, that’s big.”
The Lady Indians last won the region in 2017, upsetting Meigs County.
The road through the eight-team regional field begins Friday, when the Lady Indians will host the fourth place team from District 4-A at OHS Gymnasium. Tipoff will be at 7 p.m., and the opponent will be determined on Tuesday. After this weekend’s games, the tournament shifts to the Chattanooga School of Arts & Sciences for the semifinals on March 2.