- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

MILWAUKEE (AP) - Arike Ogunbowale loves big games.

“I feel that is when I play my best even though I try to play my best every game,” she said. “I just love the feel of big games, the crowds, so I’ll do whatever I can to show up even more.”

The Divine Savior Holy Angels junior had plenty of opportunities to show that this past season. And as is often the case, she didn’t disappoint.

The 5-foot-9 guard/forward led DSHA to its first conference title as well as its first sectional berth since 2010. In the process the Dashers standout produced another stellar season, averaging 22.7 points, 12.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.9 steals and 0.8 blocks per game for a team that went 20-5.

Ogunbowale’s efforts led to her second straight state player of the year award from the Associated Press. She edged Racine Prairie senior Gabrielle Ortiz by a 4-3 margin for the honor. Oak Creek’s Steve Hluchnik was voted coach of the year by a statewide media panel.

The award is the latest for Ogunbowale, who won gold medals with USA basketball last summer at the FIBA Americas U16 Championships and the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Championships. She also claimed the last two Gatorade state player of the year awards.

The 2013-14 season, however, was about taking the Dashers new heights.

None of its players were key figures on the school’s last Greater Metro Conference title. There were also many new faces and just one key senior.

“I really wanted to lead by example,” Ogunbowale said. “We had a lot of new girls and I was the only one besides (senior) Sami (Leach), the other captain, who had been on varsity for three years. . We had to use our experience and knowledge to help them and get them in the Dasher basketball way and try to grow as a team.”

Ogunbowale had 17 double-doubles in 22 regular season games. She flirted with a triple double (18 points, nine rebounds, nine assists) in a 67-46 victory over Waunakee on Dec. 27. She posted 36 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in a 68-59 victory over Milwaukee Riverside on Dec. 5 and 31 points and 20 rebounds in a 62-53 victory over Milwaukee King March 8 that gave the Dashers the regional title.

In league play, Ogunbowale’s gritty 12-point, 12-rebound effort helped DSHA score a 52-50 comeback victory over Sussex Hamilton Feb. 7 that proved key in a league race the Dashers won by one game.

“I really, really enjoyed this team. Our chemistry was great from the beginning,” she said. “This season was one of my most fun seasons here. We all really enjoyed each other and we all worked hard and we all had a team goal and we all wanted to succeed.”

Hluchnik was voted coach of the year after leading Oak Creek to the first basketball state championship - boys or girls - in the school’s history. The Knights (26-2) achieved that milestone March 22 when they defeated Superior, 73-52, in the Resch Center at Green Bay.

The 43-year-old Hluchnik, a West Allis native who earned six athletic letters in three sports at West Allis Central, worked in a new point guard - junior Jenna Santi - with four returning starters. That group was led by 6-foot-2 forwards Stephanie Kostowicz (second-team All-State) and Tamya Sims (third team).

Only a pair of one-point losses - 42-41 to Pewaukee Dec. 28 and 49-48 to Kimberly Jan. 11 - kept Oak Creek from a perfect record.

“We played pretty well all year,” Hluchnik said. “I think we had some bumps in the road in the middle of the season and I think we found out our weaknesses. We struggled in those two losses closing them out - we were up six points with under two minutes to go and couldn’t close them out.

“Some full-court defense got us a little bit in the beginning and middle of the season and those were the things we focused on as the year went on. And we were able to handle those situations in the tournament.”

Ironically, Hluchnik was a standout in baseball and football at West Allis Central from 1984-88, but was only a role player in basketball. But since taking over Oak Creek’s program in 2009, he has gone 105-25, including 49-4 the last two seasons.

“I tell the kids sometimes that I think I know all the roles,” Hluchnik said. “I was a very good baseball player and in football, I was probably slightly above average. In basketball, I was the role player, so I know all three positions that the kids are in and can relate to all three of those types of kids.”

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Peter Jackel of The Journal Times of Racine contributed to this story

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