McARTHUR — The Athens Bulldogs had one goal in mind season: win the TVC.
Last year, Athens was cruising toward a TVC-Ohio championship, winning its first eight league games.
However, the Bulldogs let the prize slip out of their grasp, dropping back-to-back contests to Meigs and Nelsonville-York — the latter of which claimed the championship from Athens.
Coming into the 2023-24 season, the Bulldogs had only lost one player from that squad. And, after being so close to winning the prize last winter, only to come up just short in the end, coach Phil Koska only had to use the past to motivate his team throughout this year.
“Every TVC game was a reminder of last season,” Koska said. “I reminded them, every time we stepped on the floor, of that moment. We did not want to have that feeling again.”
This year, the Bulldogs dominated in nearly every TVC game on their schedule, with only one loss on the slate. Their long journey back to the top of the league was completed on Monday with a 62-41 win at Vinton County, one that crowned them as the outright TVC-Ohio champs for the first time since 2015.
“We were ready to go,” Athens’ Olivia Smart said after the game. “Since last year, when we were so close, it’s been on everyone’s minds.”
The Bulldogs (17-4, 10-1 TVC-Ohio) wasted no time making a statement as four different Bulldogs contributed to a 9-0 run in the first three minutes of the game.
Athens kept the same intensity on defense, forcing eight Viking turnovers in the first quarter, and would capitalize on the other end. Fueled by nine points from Asa Holcombe, the Bulldogs held a 26-6 advantage after one quarter.
They started hot and never looked back.
Although Vinton County (8-12, 4-7 TVC-Ohio) tried to slow down the game’s tempo, the Vikings never trail by less than 18 points throughout the remainder of the game.
A 33-15 halftime deficit would be insurmountable, and Athens kept its foot on the gas the entire contest.
The second half of action was no different.
Quinn Banks, after only scoring five points in the first half, caught fire in the second. After being fouled on a 3-point attempt, the sophomore knocked down all three of her free throws. Later, she struck from long range again to increase her first half’s scoring total by more than double.
“It takes all five on the floor to beat anybody,” Koska said. “The better your five can score as a group, it makes you a harder team to beat.”
Banks rounded off 12 points in the second half to give her 17 total and the Bulldogs continued to ride their momentum, finishing off the night with a dominant 21-point win.
“We’re excited. It’s taken a lot of bumps to get to this point.These girls worked so hard in the offseason to improve,” Koska said. “They were close last year, and it stung pretty bad. We didn’t want to go back down that road.”
While Banks led Athens in scoring with 17, Asa Holcombe followed with 15 points and added six rebounds. Ella Chapman contributed 13 points and another six boards, and Olivia Smart put up eight points and grabbed seven rebounds of her own.
For Vinton County, McKenna Thompson led the way with 10 points, while Trinity Williams knocked down a pair of 3-pointers on her way to an eight-point performance.
Both teams wrap up the regular season this upcoming weekend.
Vinton County will travel to Meigs on Thursday before hosting Jackson on Saturday. From there, they will welcome Washington on Feb. 12 for postseason action.
Meanwhile, Athens looks to finish its TVC slate with one final win, hosting Wellston on Thursday. The Bulldogs’ postseason campaign will then begin on Feb. 15, traveling to Jackson High School for a sectional final matchup against Waverly.
While the Bulldogs are eager to make a run in the tournament, Koska knows that his team’s work in the regular season is not yet finished.
“We have two days of practice and we’re going to focus on beating Wellston,” Koska said. “They’re a good team, they’re improving, and they could be a dangerous team. Once we get done with Wellston, then I’ll look at Waverly.”
Athens: 26-7–15-14 — 62
Vinton County: 6-9-6-20 — 41
Athens scoring: Banks 17, Holcombe 15, Chapman 13, Smart 8, Stump 5, Koopal 4
Vinton County scoring: Thompson 10, T. Williams 8, Brisker 5, L. Williams 5, Leaming 4, Smith 4, Davis 3, Davidson 2