AURORA -- You name it -- athletic ability, talent, size and defensive pressure. When Aurora's girls basketball team advanced to the Euclid Division I district semifinals against top-seeded and state-ranked Solon, the Greenmen were facing the best team they had seen all winter.
Solon led throughout in a 69-29 victory in the district semis Feb. 27. Seeded sixth, the Greenmen had some opportunities early on as strong defense held the explosive Comets to just a 2-0 lead for the first 3:30 of the contest, but then Solon got many runs.
Pressure defense forced 31 Aurora turnovers and Solon's all-time leading scorer Dee Bekelja was a one-player wrecking crew. A 5-foot-8 guard headed to DePaul University, Bekelja exploded for 24 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals, and one blocked shot.
Bekelja buried four 3-pointers and had 18 points in the second half.
"They have a great team and we can't simulate their pressure [defense] in practice; we just haven't seen pressure like that this entire season," explained Aurora veteran mentor Erika Greenberg.
In the final state poll, Solon (23-2) was ranked seventh and is headed to the Canton regionals, led by Bekelja, 6-2 center and major college recruit Valencia Myers and 5-11 forward Alexis Stover, who is headed to Ohio University, plus speedy guards Mariah Modkins and Gabby Mitchell.
After edging second seeded Twinsburg, Solon is gunning for a third straight Final Four appearance.
"They are an excellent basketball team and we knew we'd have to play extremely well," said Greenberg, who used a zone defense against the bigger Comets. "We didn't shoot well and had way too many turnovers, but the girls battled hard."
It was Aurora's first district semi appearance since 2013-14 when the locals won 45-35 over Youngstown Boardman in a sectional final before losing in the Akron Ellet district to Twinsburg (72-29), the eventual state runnerup.
Aurora's defense was strong early on, but the Greenmen couldn't convert much as Solon led 14-5 after one period. With 56 seconds left in the first, AHS senior guard Syarra Sellers was tagged with her second foul on a charge and that hurt the locals.
Mitchell nailed a 3-point bomb on a dish from Bekelja to make it 22-6 in the second period with 4:19 left. Solon canned 10 treys in the win.
Sellers was whistled for her third foul with 1:26 left in the first half as Solon led 26-12. The Comets closed on a 6-2 run to end the half up by 18.
A 16-4 third period by Solon was the knockout punch as Aurora finished the year with an 18-7 mark. Myers added 12 points and 7 caroms for the Comets.
Pacing Aurora was Sellers with 10 points and 3 boards before fouling out. Senior guard Korie Hobbs also fouled out after having a solid floor game with 3 points, 4 boards, 4 steals and 2 assists.
Making their postseason debuts were freshman guard Dylynn Lasky and sophomore guard Julia Mazanec. The latter added 2 points, 4 rebounds, one assist and one theft.
"Julia played basketball for the first time this season and did a good job," explained her coach. "She will contribute next season."
Lasky chipped in with 4 points and senior guard April Davis hit a 3-pointer. It was the final game for seniors like Sellers, Davis, Hobbs and guard Sarah Marchese, who added 2 points.
The Greenmen captured their first league championship since 1927 and registered a huge sectional final win (65-57) over third-seeded Maple Heights (15-8).
"We had a great group of seniors, who provided outstanding leadership in an historic season for us," noted Greenberg.
Sophomore wing Haley Ross added 2 points, while Shayla Sellers hit a free throw, grabbed 6 boards and had 2 steals and 2 blocks. Junior forward Olivia Ryncarz added a free throw and 2 boards, while freshman Katie Houlahan also worked hard in the paint.