Unfortunately, the latter will prove true today when Norwalk and Willard duke it out as Northern Ohio League foes for the final time before the league dissipates during the summer.
The two schools will then become members of the Sandusky Bay Conference for the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. Norwalk will be placed in the Lake Division and Willard in the Bay Division.
“It’s special, I mean, it’s a long-standing rivalry there,” Norwalk coach Brock Manlet said. “But we can’t worry about that, we’ve to go out there and win a game and we’ll think about that afterwards.”
Today’s contest will be a bittersweet moment for the Lady Truckers and Lady Crimson Flashes. Neither team have a chance at catching up with Shelby (17-1, 9-0) and Bellevue (13-4, 8-1) to contend for the NOL crown. But that doesn’t mean they’ve given up on the season.
“It’s a pride factor,” Manlet said. “You don’t want to be in the lower half of the league. That’s the challenge we’ve got to play with right now. Not only do we have to win a league game, but we have to continue to get better and better leading up to the tournament.”
Willard coach Jon Dawson had similar feelings.
“As we enter (today’s) game with Norwalk, the girls are well aware that we are out of the league race but realize that we have a chance to finish third and that is very important to us,” he said. “I believe us, Norwalk and Ontario all have four wins and we play both those teams so its not like we are depending on someone else. It’s up to us.
“(It’s) kind of hard to believe this is last time against Norwalk in a league game,” he said. “All the way back to when I was on the boys staff, Willard and Norwalk rivalry has always been special,” Dawson added.
The last time the two faced-off, the Truckers posted a 69-49 blowout.
“Norwalk is very explosive at the offensive end and our goal is to limit their possessions and take good care of the basketball,” Dawson said. “We know we can't give up 69 points again and expect to beat them. We also realize that what they do starts with Jiselle (Thomas) and she is a tough girl to game plan for. Our goal is to make her earn everything she gets and not let her get loose for easy points.”
Since Round 1, the defending NOL co-champions have much improved. After starting the season 2-6, they have won eight of their last 11. One major factor in that turn-around has been freshman Cassidy Crawford, who is averaging a double-double with 14.6 points per game and 10.8 rebounds.
“Cassidy Crawford has been a model of consistency, leading us all year in scoring and rebounding,” Dawson said.
But it hasn’t been all Crawford, as Willard has three other players who have scored over 100 points this year, compared to Norwalk’s one — Jiselle Thomas.
Seniors Ashlee Tuttle and Madie Secor are averaging 8.2 and 7.7 points per game, respectively, while Sophomore Lydia Wiers is at 5.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per outing.
“Madie Secor is really the engine that makes us go with her ability to handle the ball and get us into an offense,” Dawson said. “Ashlee Tuttle is our second leading scorer and has been shooting better as of late, but more importantly has really provided great leadership. Lydia Wiers is feeling more and more comfortable in her role as a scorer and rebounder.”
For the Truckers, it’s a little bit different of a story.
After starting the season 7-0, they’ve started to fall off a little bit, going 6-4 since then.
Thomas has accounted for about 37% of Norwalk’s total points scored. The North Point commit is averaging 22.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4 assists and 3.8 steals per game — all of which leads the team.
Leah Malson has recently made herself into a contender, holding the second-highest PPG for Norwalk with 7.
The Truckers are hoping to build off of Thursday’s 66-37 rout of Western Reserve in which they forced 30 turnovers.
“Willard is tough,” Manlet said. “They are much-imporved from where they were earlier in the year. I just hope that we don’t have a let down in terms of how we played (Thursday night) and how we go into that game. We’re going to have to bring the same intensity and do similar things that we did (Thursday night) in order to be competitive in that game.
“We’re going to have our hands full. They’ve got a little bit of everything.”
The contest will begin at 1 p.m. when they junior varsity teams tipoff.
For updates on the game, follow @Cary_reporter on Twitter.