TUPPERS PLAINS, Ohio — It’s gotta be the shoes.
Eastern seniors Katie Keller, Maddie Rigsby, Erin Swatzel, Jordan Parker and Jenna Burdette unanimously chose Green Glow and Game Royal as the colors of the team’s basketball sneakers this season, basically because they were — well — unique.
The quintet wanted their Nikes to be something that no other team would consider having, even though the shoes don’t necessarily match up with the school’s more-traditional Green and Gold colors.
The bright kicks, however, have played a significant role in the Lady Eagles’ historic march this winter, one that has led people from around the state to take notice of something else unique — besides what is on their feet.
Eastern (20-1) became just the third team in Southeast District history to be named a poll champion by the Associated Press in girls basketball, as the Lady Eagles edged out Newark Catholic by a single point in the final Ohio Division IV poll released Tuesday night.
The Green and Gold — who earned the school’s first-ever No. 1 ranking just two weeks ago — received a D-4-best six first-place votes en route to earning a final tally of 173 points. The Green Wave (19-2) garnered five first-place votes and scored 172 points to finish as the runner-up in the D-4 poll.
Zanesville Rosecrans (19-1) — which suffered its only loss (70-53) on December 28 at EHS — finished third overall with 143 points, while Berlin Hiland (18-4) and Bowerstown Conotton Valley (19-0) rounded out the top five spots with respective tallies of 135 and 133 points.
Bridgeport (20-1) and Fayetteville-Perry (19-0) were sixth and seventh with 125 and 109 points, while Minster (17-2), Fort Loramie (19-2) and Maria Stein Marion Local (15-4) respectively scored 101, 67 and 38 points to round out the top-10.
Eight different teams received at least one first-place vote from the 23 AP members who submitted selections for the final poll, including one apiece for Convoy Crestview (19) and Pettisville (13) — who finished just outside the top-10 picks. Rosecrans, Hiland, Bridgeport and Minster also came away with at least two No. 1 votes.
Eastern captured the program’s third league title in four years this winter, including the first unbeaten outright TVC Hocking crown since the 2000-01 campaign. It was also the third time in four years that EHS won at least 20 games in a season, as well as the fourth time in six years under EHS coach John Burdette.
The Lady Eagles — who became the first D-4 state qualifier from the Southeast District a year ago — snapped Waterford’s 60-game home winning streak against league opponents while also ending the Lady ‘Cats’ nine-year reign as at least co-champions.
All in all, it was a pretty special regular season for the Lady Eagles — and this latest accolade is just another something special to add to the resume.
“We are very honored and humble to receive this award from the state sports writers,” Coach Burdette said. “It is truly something special for us, our league and all of southeastern Ohio.”
The Lady Eagles joined three-time D-3 state runner-up Oak Hill as the only Southeast District school to ever finish the regular season ranked No. 1 by the Ohio AP. The Lady Oaks first accomplished the feat in 2005, then repeated as poll champions in 2011.
Frankfort Adena is the only Southeast District school with a state championship in girls basketball, accomplishing the feat in the first tournament ever held in 1976 and again in the 1994 Division III bracket.
Burdette knows his kids will wear a bull’s-eye as the postseason progresses, much like they have throughout the course of their previous 21 contests. He also believes that this achievement will only serve as motivation for his troops over the next few weeks.
“I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. We are proud to receive this honor, but we didn’t set out to be the highest ranked team at the end of the regular season. We want to be the number one team at the end of the tournament,” Burdette said. “We still have a lot of basketball to play and a lot of work to put in. We haven’t won anything yet.”
This season marks the 30th poll conducted by the Ohio AP in girls basketball, and the success rate for top-ranked team hasn’t been good. Of the previous 109 poll champions selected in all divisions, only 22 have gone on to clinch the state title in the same year — a 20.2 percentage.
Then again, the next poll champion to win a state crown will become number 23 — a number synonymous to basketball in both winning championships and unique footwear.
And as the old cliche goes — if the shoe fits, wear it.