VERSAILLES — Versailles is bringing back the “Champs”.
In a community and school which has a long list of state champions, that needs a little more clarification.
Versailles will honor the 10th anniversary of its first state champion in girls basketball — the 2007-08 team coached by current coach Jacki Stonebraker — today when the Lady Tigers host Covington in non-conference action.
And what a team that was.
Starters Emily Frey, Justine Raterman, Karen Smith, Mallory Barga and Emily Bohman; along with Courtney Barlage, Emily Eilerman, Olivia Liette, Susan Berger, Megan Campbell, Laura Schlater, Bethany Ahrens, Tara Winner and Mandy Gerling made up one of the best collection of basketball players in a long line for the Versailles program.
Stonebraker herself was already familiar with history.
She was on the first Versailles girls basketball team to advance to the Final Four during the 1991-92 season — her freshman season at Versailles.
After going on to be a standout at Bowling Green State University, she returned to Versailles to coach her alma mater.
And the “storm” that was the 2007-08 season had been building under Stonebraker, in her fourth season as coach.
The previous two seasons, Versailles had been eliminated by the eventual D-III state champions with a future college star.
In the 2005-06 season, Versailles lost to a Jonathan Alder team led by future Bowling Green start Lauren Prochaska 45-41 in the regional finals.
A year later, the Lady Tigers advanced to the Final Four — only to run in to Cleveland Central Catholic and future Ohio State All-American Jantel Lavender, losing 51-39.
So, the stage was set for something special in the 2007-08 season and special it was.
The Lady Tigers ran through a perfect 20-0 regular season and finished as the top-ranked team in the state in D-III.
The only bump in the road in the postseason was a regional semifinal matchup with Hamilton Badin — where Stonebraker rallied the troups from a halftime deficit to a 44-30 win.
They followed that with 47-37 win over Miami East in the regional final and a storm — actually two — were about to hit Central Ohio.
The state semifinal matchup with South Euclid Regina featured the one and two ranked teams in the state.
Regina had a star of its own in Shelby Say, who would go on to play for Duke.
But, before the game could even be played, a snowstorm hit southwest and central Ohio.
I remember at one point on the drive over that Friday afternoon, our photographer (the legendary Mike Ullery), calling me on his cell phone on I-70 and asking if I was sure it was worth driving over in the snow.
I remember telling him — you can do what you want — I am going to the game.
He did the same and it was well worth it — although the weather turning the trip home a Gilligan’s Island like four-hour tour might have made me question it at the time.
As for the matchup on the floor, there was a feeling like Reginal, while ranked second, may have well been the favorite leading up to the game.
Reginal was going for its fifth state title in program history — which they would get the following year — and they had Say, considered one of the top players in the Ohio.
What few people outside of Southwest Ohio seeemed to realize is Versailles had their own in Raterman — Stonebraker’s sister — who had held her own against Lavender the previous year and would go on to help take the University of Dayton to previously unprecedented heights, before playing in Europe.
She is currently an assistant coach with the Miami (Ohio) University program.
And Stonebraker knew what she had in a team lead by Raterman and Bohman — maybe one of the most underrated high school basketball players to those outside of Versailles.
And Regina was about to find out.
After trailing early, Versailles has taken a 26-22 lead at halftime.
Then, with Raterman and Bohman combining for 38 second-half points, Versailles would put 49 points on the board after the break in a 75-60 win.
Bohman was nine of 15 from the floor, while Raterman was eight of 13 — and they combined to make 20 of 25 free throws.
That set the stage for a state championship matchup with Sugarcreek Garaway — scheduled for the next day — Saturday.
After spending 90 minutes shoveling snow to I could get out of the driveway — I returned inside only to find out the storm was so bad, all state championship games were postponed until Monday.
So, Versailles would have to wait a little longer for its first state championship in the sport.
After trailing 7-6 after one quarter, Versailles took a 19-13 halftime lead and was on its way to history.
A 16-6 advantage in the third quarter set the stage for the perfect finish to a 28-0 season as Versailles won 51-33.
Raterman would again lead the Lady Tigers, finishing with a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Megan Campbell came off the bench to score 10 points in a key role.
I remember asking Campbell, a sophomore, how you handle the pressure of coming in to a state championship game.
She gave me a funny look, then responded, “I practice against Justine (Raterman) every day. Compared to that this was easy.”
The cap to the season was the Versailles Winter Sports Awards program.
I was there to present the Lady Tigers with the plaque for being the state poll champion — voted on by various sportswriters throughout the state.
I remember telling the team at the time they were so good — even the sportswriters got it right.
Ten years later — that season is as historic and perfect as it was then.
It’s time to bring back the “Champs”.
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