Hawken Hawks girls’ basketball Coach Brittney Matuschek said she had an epiphany after her team lost to Chagrin Valley Conference rival Chagrin Falls on Jan. 3.
According to her, she turned to her assistant coach Tom Hicks in the locker room postgame and said she did not want to see her team lose another game before the playoffs.
The first-year coach never had to utter those words to her Hawks as they met those expectations by extending their winning streak to 12 games when the Hawks buried CVC rival Beachwood 48-21 in their regular season finale last Friday evening at Beachwood High School.
“We are obviously very excited as we have progressed tremendously during the second half of the season,” said the first-year coach. “We thought it was perfect timing going into the tournament. A lot of these girls have had the district taste before a few years ago from when they won so we are leaning on our senior leaders to make sure everybody stays focused.”
The Hawks’ (15-7, 10-3) revival in the second half of the season has led to them becoming the 10th seed in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division II Northeast 3 Region 5 Uniontown Lake bracket.
“I think teams are starting to see what we are trying to build at Hawken,” Matuschek said. “There is a bigger picture here at Hawken and we are hoping we are starting to gain the respect and the attention that the program deserves. We put a lot in for these kids, not only on the court but off the court as far as activities and things like that.”
Even riding a 12-game winning streak into the postseason, Matushcek said her team is still viewed as the underdogs.
She added that it is a role her team is embracing and is looking forward to proving their doubters wrong.
“I think they see it as fun,” she said. “We have definitely enjoyed every single one of our 12 wins but if you look at these girls, they embrace the spot. They came from out of nowhere in the beginning of the season. We struggled and it took us a little bit to get the ball rolling as new staff and a new program and we did have some tough teams in the beginning of the season, but these girls are ready because they have had these losses and have played those tough teams.”
Being counted out is something Matuschek is used to going back to her tenure as the head coach of her alma matter Valley Forge.
During the 2019 playoffs, 11th-seeded Valley Forge staged an upset in the first round of the playoffs when it ousted the sixth-seed Medina Highland.
Matuschek called that victory one of her most memorable moments with the Patriots and sees a lot of parallels between that team and her current Hawken squad.
“It does take a lot of talent and this team has a lot of talent as well,” she said. “These girls put in the work in order to get better and that is what we preached. Input equals output. They put in the work and have that passion for basketball and that will to compete. The girls are not only fully and physically committed but also mentally committed as well.”
Hawken’s winning streak was in jeopardy in the first period when the Bison outscored them by a 7-4 margin.
According to Matuschek, the defense was stout but the offense was lagging.
“I knew they would rebound because they take a lot of pride in what they do and when they saw the score was 7-4 they were equally as mad at themselves so I was not too worried because I know the girls and the expectations they hold themselves to,” she said.
Senior forward Kate Bollinger ignited Hawken in the second quarter by scoring 12 points and the Hawks woke up and outscored Beachwood 22-4 to take a 15-point advantage into the half.
Being the only returning starter this season, the 5-foot-8 Bollinger was used as the focal point for the offense at the beginning of the season.
Matuschek said once opposing teams figured out Bollinger was the Hawks’ go-to scorer, they started double and triple teaming her.
“We have strategically moved Kate around and talked to her about some pressure relief things and she has become more confident in herself and is still trying to maintain that composure,” she said.
Bollinger has navigated the defensive pressure and scored 41 points in the final two games of the regular season to send Hawken into the postseason with significant momentum.In the second quarter on Friday, Matuchek said the Hawks sparked their offense through their defense to take a commanding lead.
“They got more aggressive and were not just sitting back and just woke up,” she said. “That led to a lot of our good buckets. We say some of our best offense comes from our best defense and again that is our identity so when they were in there where they started getting into their zone a little bit.”
The Hawks surrendered only one field goal to Beachwood in the second period and continued stifling the Bison in the third quarter by not allowing their conference foe to convert a field goal.
Only a month after pounding Beachwood 41-10 in the first meeting, the Hawks repeated history and allowed only 21 points in the re-match.
The Bison did not score in double digits in any of the four periods.
“I think once they realized that they are Hawken and this is what we were working for the last month and we knew who we are, that is what where the sense of pride came in,” said Matuschek. “They have remained true and consistent and that is another hard thing to do for four months.”
The Hawks will begin postseason play when they welcome the winner of the Lutheran West-Tallmadge game in the OHSAA Division II Northeast 3 sectional final at 1 p.m. Saturday at The Red Gym in Chester.
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