There is a 1 in 9.2 quintillion chance that your March Madness bracket will be perfect.

The Shumate family in Newark, Ohio, are hoping for an unlikely championship matchup in the NCAA Women’s Tournament, with 2-seeded Ohio State University facing 15-seeded Kent State University. This all-Ohio matchup would be a joy for any resident of the Buckeye State, but it has extra significance for the Shumates: daughter versus daughter. 

Katie Shumate, a senior at Kent State, and her younger sister, Emma, a sophomore at Ohio State, will both get to participate in this year’s Big Dance, hoping to bring a national championship to their home state of Ohio.

“It’s something that’s really special,” said JR Shumate, the girls’ dad and high school coach. “You always want your kids to experience the best. I’m just really proud of the relationships that they have and the way people think of them.”

For the Newark High School alums, basketball runs in the family. Their older brother, JT, is currently playing professionally in Romania, after four years playing at the University of Toledo and a stint with the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Summer League. Their father, JR, was the head coach of the Newark girls’ basketball team for 13 years before stepping down in 2021 to ensure he didn’t miss any of his kids’ college games. He’ll be returning to the role next season.

“We had a Little Tikes hoop in the house, and we have some home videos of us all shooting on it in the living room and in our basement,”  Emma recalled. “When we grew up, we had a half-court blacktop hoop outside. My dad would just rebound for us all for hours. We’d all be really competitive in our drills and see who could get the best scores.”

The girls overlapped for two years on the court for the Newark Wildcats, with JR as their coach. “We won districts every year, so we got to cut down some nets together,” said Katie. 

“We all look back fondly on those years. We had a lot of success, which makes it even more sweet,” said JR.

Katie graduated from Newark in 2019 and committed to Kent State. Emma had two more pandemic-ridden years of high school ball before graduating in 2021 as a four-star recruit and committing to West Virginia. After one semester, she transferred to Ohio State.

In her time with the Golden Flashes, Katie has become a team fixture. She netted her thousandth point in 2022 and led the team in scoring for each of the last three seasons. But it didn’t translate into post-season success. 

“I’ve been here for five years and never managed to win more than one game in the tournament. And one year we didn’t even make it to the tournament,” she said.

Last year, Emma’s first with the Buckeyes, the team played in the Big Dance as a three-seed. The team lost in the Elite Eight to 1-seeded Virginia Tech, but not before shocking the college basketball world by taking down 2-seeded University of Connecticut 73-61 in the Sweet Sixteen, snapping the Huskies’ sixteen-year Elite Eight streak.

“That game was a lot of fun,” Emma said. “I think a lot of people doubted us, so to win that game was really big. I remember every minute of it.”

Going into the 2023–2024 season, both Shumate sisters had high hopes for their squads. For Emma’s Buckeyes, it was a return to the tournament. For Katie’s Golden Flashes, it was to finally break into it. 

This season brought more eyes to the women’s game than ever before. Players like Louisiana State University’s Angel Reese and University of Iowa’s Caitlin Clark became some of the biggest stars in sports. Clark’s final home game was a win against the Buckeyes, and the game was the most expensive ticket to a women’s basketball game ever. 

“I’m just so thankful to be a part of this generation of women’s basketball,” Emma said. “It’s due time. All of these female athletes have put so much work and time into the game, and I think that it’s finally being recognized.”

The Buckeyes were a lock for the tournament no matter what happened in the Big Ten tournament, but a first-round loss to Maryland wasn’t the desired outcome. 

“It’s always easier to motivate a team off of a loss than it is off of a win,” said JR. “Teams are hungrier after a loss. You have that risk associated with not getting done early in the tournament.”

For Katie, the only way into the NCAA Tournament would be to win their way through the Mid-American Conference Tournament. Kent State did exactly that, defeating University of Buffalo 76-60, with Katie named Tournament most valuable player.

“A lot of people stepped up in those four days that we were in Cleveland,” Katie said. “The MVP recognition at the end, it’s kind of just a cherry on top.”

Brackets were announced on Selection Sunday. Ohio State is the two-seed in the Portland 3 region of the tournament, with a matchup against University of Maine in Columbus on Friday at noon. Kent State is the fifteen-seed in the Albany 1 region, with a matchup against Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, on Saturday at 2:15 p.m.

JR and his wife, Kari, will be at the Schottenstein Center on Friday to see Emma, then pack into the car and drive to Notre Dame for Katie’s game the following day. This week also marks the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary. 

“It’s not every day that you get to experience something like this,” JR said. “It’s going to be exciting. We’re really looking forward to it.”

The Shumate sisters are on opposite sides of the bracket, meaning their only possible meeting would be in the national championship, which will be fittingly played in Ohio at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland on April 7.

Emmet Anderson writes for, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is sponsored in part by the Mellon Foundation and donationsfrom readers. Sign up for The Reporting Project newsletter here.