Girls basketball: Lickliter, fellow Carroll seniors get one last shot at state

Fifteen minutes. That’s how close the Carroll girls basketball team was a year ago to beginning a weekend they believed would end with a state championship.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association pulled the teams off the Schottenstein Center court in Columbus during warmups. The players went to the locker room and waited for their coach. Cecilia Grosselin came in a few minutes later and broke news: There would be no state tournament because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Initially, I had no expression,” Carroll senior Ava Lickliter said. “I was like, ‘This can’t be real.’ And then like three minutes later, it hit, ‘Our season’s done.’ Not even off of a loss.”

That bad memory – and the tears the coach and the players shared while their fans filed out of the arena – has driven the Carroll girls basketball team to today.

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The Patriots (20-4) get another chance in the Division II state tournament. The play Napoleon (24-1) – another team that was supposed to play in the state final four last year – at 11 a.m. today in the semifinals at UD Arena.

“For a lot of us, it is motivation because it was so unfortunate that it got ripped away from us,” Lickliter said. “To be able to go back and to be able to prove to everyone that even though we graduated three seniors we’re still strong enough to make it back to where we are.”

Lickliter also was a starter on the Carroll team that lost in the state final in 2019. For her and fellow co-captain Megan Leraas and the other seniors, this is the last chance.

“I feel a lot of people didn’t expect this out of us, so to get to where we are now is a big statement to everyone that we’re just as strong,” Lickliter said.

Lickliter has always had a leadership role as a point guard, but she shared the role before this year with Allie Stefanek, who graduated last year. This year she’s the vocal leader.

“I’ve always felt like I’ve had a leadership role on the team, but now being a senior and labeled as a captain it’s really nice because the girls really listen to me,” Lickliter said.

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Grosselin relies on the Lickliter to keep the team organized and calm. She says her point guard’s focus and drive rubs off on the rest of the team.

“She gets people in the right place and is so basketball smart,” Grosselin said. “A lot of times players don’t understand. Ava gets it.

“She leads by example as well. You see her in practice working hard on defense, being the first one down when we’re sprinting and doing drills. I just can’t say enough about her as a team captain and a senior leader.”

Lickliter has never been considered a star by those outside the team. In the state tournament media guide, teammates Sarah Ochs and Leraas are listed under the heading “Star Watch.” They deserve that rating. Lickliter, who averages 9.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists, is listed under “Other Players to Watch.” Lickliter has signed to play NCAA Division II basketball at Wheeling, and Grosselin said the college recruiters say Lickliter is an elite defender.

“Ava does so much for our team,” Grosselin said. “She has no problem giving the ball up to someone who might have a better shot, and she’s one of the reasons this is our third trip to the final four. A lot of it has to do with Ava.”

The next step is to erase last year’s memory – “The seniors went around and hugged each one of us,” Lickliter said, “which made it sadder for everyone” – and finish the season on their own terms.

If there is crying in the locker room, it won’t because they didn’t get a chance.

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