WILLARD - At 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning, a lot of people are still soundly tucked into bed, or perhaps scouring the town in search of their favorite breakfast sandwich.
Not Jon Dawson and his Willard Crimson Flashes; they were going to work.
"We have good shooters, but to be honest we've been in a bit of a slump," Dawson said. "This morning at 7 o'clock it was the only time we could get in the gym. I had six or seven of those kids in here. They wanted to get some shots up, I told them it had to be at 7. They were in here and shooting, getting a lot of shots up and I think they started getting their confidence back a little bit."
The early bird catches the worm. Or, in this case, knocks down a string of 3-pointers.
And Willard needed it after falling into an early hole against Columbian. The Flashes' outside shooting pushed them ahead in the second quarter, and although the Tornadoes hung tough for most of the afternoon, Willard pulled away in the fourth for a 60-36 win.
The teams have spent the first month of the season going in opposite directions. Willard came into Saturday's game with an unblemished record while Columbian was still searching for its first win.
However, through the first eight minutes it was Columbian holding the edge.
Valesha Province scored seven in the first quarter, Payge Smith knocked down a pair of baskets and Chelsea Hutchins beat the first quarter buzzer with a 3-pointer to give Columbian a 14-8 lead.
"I think the kids are showing improvement," Columbian coach Katie Fazekas said. "They came out, they competed. The press looked good, the energy was good. Payge stepped up and hit some big shots in the first quarter that got us going. ... I was pleased with the effort for sure."
In the second, though, roughly eight hours after the early shoot-around, Willard's work paid off.
The Flashes hit 5 of 6 shots from behind the arc, three off the hand of Hannah Schloemer, as they jumped in front.
Meanwhile, Willard's defense began to make life tough on the TC offense, forcing nine second-quarter turnovers.
"They were getting after it and we just missed some rotations on defense on that kind of thing," Dawson said of Columbian's first quarter success. "We were able to pick it up, and it starts with our defense like always. I felt we were able to make a few adjustments, get some rotations and I felt it got better."
Willard (8-0, 3-0 Northern Ohio League) outscored Columbian 23-9 in the period to take a 31-23 lead at halftime.
"We wanted to take away their inside game. They were, on average, five inches taller than us. So we really focused on keeping the ball out of the paint," Fazekas said. "When they hit some 3s, you got to pick one or the other. We took a gamble and the second quarter they exposed it. They knocked down some shots. Their guards shot well; they got some good shooters."
Despite the size disadvantage, Columbian did out-rebound Willard 32-22.
"The kids really went to work," Fazekas said. "We challenged them that no matter what happens tonight, don't get out-worked. I'll go out on a limb and say we out-worked them tonight. I was pleased with their effort."
Columbian played Willard to a near stalemate in the third quarter, but the Flashes flexed their muscle in the fourth.
"It's like swimming upstream," Fazekas said as her team dropped to 0-8, 0-4. "I told the kids eventually you just run out of gas, and they were playing so far over their heads. I was so proud of them, they worked so hard."
Columbian turned the ball over on six of its first seven possessions in the fourth. Meanwhile on the other end of the floor, Emily Hamilton came off the bench to hit three quick jumpers to finally give Willard some separation from the Tornadoes.
"I talked this morning on the radio, where anybody can help us out scoring, and it's different people all the time," Dawson said. "Tonight it was Emily. She really got it going there in the fourth quarter and it's good to see, because this is a kid that puts in a lot of time and always hasn't been rewarded with a lot of time and scoring-wise. But, she's kind of the one that stays behind the scenes a little bit, doing some of the dirty work and it was nice to see her get rewarded tonight."
Schloemer led Willard with 16 points and Hannah Adams finished with 12, nine of which came in the fourth quarter.
Province led all scorers with 17. Smith chipped in six for Columbian.