For years Avon Lake girls basketball has been defined by defense and hustle. Shoregals coach Dave Zvara wouldn’t have it any other way.
This year the team added an elite scorer, junior Arianna Negron, to the mix and her 17.7 point scoring average in the postseason is one of the big reasons the Shoregals are playing in the regional tournament for the first time since 2001.
They’ll face Canton McKinley, ranked second in the state, in a Division I regional semifinal at Norwalk High School at 8 p.m.
“All year people have focused on how good the seniors are and haven’t given Arianna as much credit as she deserves,” senior guard Amber Achladis said.
“The headlines have talked about seniors this and seniors that but the seniors wouldn’t be as good as they are without Arianna.”
Negron is averaging 12.5 points per game and also led the team in rebounds (5.9) and steals (3.5) in the regular season.
She shot 48 percent from behind the 3-point line while earning third-team All-Northeast Lakes District honors.
“I know I’m still a junior but when I’m on the court I try to be a leader and I just focus on being an all-around team player,” Negron said.
Negron worked hard in the offseason to improve her shooting and her ability to drive to the basket. That work paid dividends right from the opening game of the season when she scored 20 points against Rocky River.
Negron scored in double figures 15 times this season but it was in early January when realized her hard work was paying off. That’s when she scored a season-high 21-points against Amherst and followed it up with a 16-point game against Berea-Midpark.
“Around the midway point of the year I knew it was going to be a really good year,” Negron said.
Although Negron’s scoring numbers are the first thing that catches the eye, Zvara said she’s so much more than just a scorer.
“Arianna gets her points but she also creates for other girls, too,” Zvara said. “She’s a great defender and very competitive young lady. She lives for big games.”
Senior Allie Heschel, who also had a big game in the district final with two 3-pointers and three steals, noticed this year that Negron brings something special to the team.
“Obviously, we’ve been a good defensive team,” Heschel said. “Having a scorer like Arianna on top of that really helps. Arianna has been amazing this season.”
With three big games in a row under her belt, Negron isn’t going to be scared facing Canton McKinley star Kierstan Bell, a two-time Ohio Ms. Basketball and Ohio State commit.
“I know it sounds crazy but I have more confidence in these bigger games,” Negron said. “Everyone kinda saw us as an underdog all season so proving people wrong has been amazing.”
Although they’re a year apart, Negron and Achladis have formed a special bond that started to grow the first time Negron stepped on the court for tryouts her freshman year.
“Honestly, when I saw her I saw myself,” Achladis said. “We’ve played high school and AAU ball together for three years, we’ve stayed in hotels together. She’s basically like my little sister.”
“We both came in as little guards — Arianna obviously has a few inches on me now,” the 5-foot-3 Achladis, who is a St. Bonaventure soccer commit, said about Negron, who is 5-6. “Basketball is her main sport. She works so hard in the offseason and it really shows.”
Being on a team with strong senior leadership has helped to speed up Negron’s maturation process.
“I’ve learned from the seniors how to be a leader,” Negron said. “They’ve shown me what to do and how to do it.”
In the whirlwind of celebration and preparation that followed Thursday’s 52-48 district final win over Olmsted Falls, Negron has thought about what it means to make it to regionals.
“It’s still kinda hard to believe that we’re one of the top 16 teams in the state,” Negron said, “To know that Avon Lake, a little suburban school, is out there with all these big schools is just amazing.”
- Girls basketball: Avon Lake's Dave Zvara named Division I Coach of the Year
- Girls basketball: Avon Lake wins its first district title in 18 years
- All-district basketball: Devon Grant, Trey Brooks, Faith Williams named top players; Zvara named top coach
- Girls district basketball: After falling short three straight years, Avon Lake advances to title game
- Girls basketball: Arianna Negron leads Avon Lake to SWC victory over Amherst