Pretty much 99.9 percent of the time, Lexi Lance is totally content staying out of the limelight. The Wadsworth senior center always has been quiet and all-around chill, and that’s just how she rolls.
The silent competitor transformed into a giddy teenager for a brief, magical moment Thursday when the Grizzlies knocked off talented defending Division I state semifinalist Canton McKinley in the Medina District championship game. Lance jogged smack dab into an awaiting teammate’s outstretched arms for a celebratory hug, and the choice may have surprised a casual fan.
It was her backup, junior Kacie Evans.
The natural assumption is Lance wouldn’t embrace the player who has cut into her minutes over the last two seasons. The reality is one of the biggest influences in convincing Evans, already one of the most accomplished volleyball superstars in Medina County history, to return to basketball after sitting out the state championship 2015-16 season was (you guessed it) Lance.
If anyone wants to know why Wadsworth is successful year in and year out as it prepares to play Perrysburg tonight in the Norwalk Regional semifinals, look no further. Everything revolves around winning, no questions asked.
“It’s so much fun playing with her,” a vibrant Lance said Monday after practice. “Obviously I don’t play with her in the game as much, but we help each other be the best we can be.”
“She’s the one who ended up bringing me back here,” Evans added. “She said, ‘Listen, we really need you this season because Soph (Sophia Fortner) tore her ACL.’ I was like, ‘OK, I’ll come back,’ and we’ve stuck with it since.”
Lance and Evans form a unique duo, especially considering they rarely play at the same time. Evans checks in at about the four-minute mark of the first quarter and hands off a towel as Lance heads to the bench, and the rotation remains unless coach Andrew Booth feels the need to ride the hot hand.
Both are 6-foot-1 with D-I scholarships, as Lance is signed with Toledo for basketball and Evans is committed to Georgia for volleyball. Both average eight points and six rebounds while shooting north of 57 percent, both jump out of the gym, both barrel down the court for easy points in transition and both are athletically gifted enough to guard the perimeter, making Wadsworth’s switch-everything man defense extremely suffocating.
There are, of course, subtle differences.
Lance almost always wears a headband with her black hair in a bun and has a slender frame with long arms that help her grab aesthetically pleasing rebounds. The four-year player with 717 career points also has more refined post skills as a basketball-only athlete and is a better shot-blocker.
Evans, meanwhile, prefers a ponytail, is naturally strong and has a great knack for pushing opponents out of position offensively and defensively. Few players in Ohio can stop her from powering in a layup if she gets deep on the block, and her to-the-point personality is fitting for the way she plays.
Booth has toyed with the idea of using Lance and Evans together with 5-11 Peyton Banks at small forward but prefers to not mess with what’s working. That’s cool with Lance and Evans.
“It’s like you have an All-Ohio, Division I-type five man for every second of the game,” Booth said. “I can’t remember in my 20 years even watching teams that have that kind of combo where one comes in, one comes out and we don’t skip a beat.”
The 51-46 win over McKinley was a perfect example of how effective Lance and Evans are. Reigning Ohio Ms. Basketball Kierstan Bell defended Banks and 6-2 Bulldogs center Triniti Lee was plagued by foul trouble, so McKinley was forced to use players shorter than 6-0 against Lance and Evans for long stretches.
They combined for 17 points and came one rebound shy of matching McKinley’s team with 21. Evans had nine points as Wadsworth led 27-17 at halftime — she also grabbed five boards in the fourth quarter — while Lance completed critical three-point plays on a pick-and-roll with Fortner and backside putback. The latter made the score 42-32 with 6:14 remaining.
The matchup will be different tonight, as Perrysburg’s top players are 6-2 Ashlynn Brown and 6-0 Tori Kopp, but don’t expect Lance or Evans to make any significant adjustments.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“We both want to win,” Lance said. “We both have that fire.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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