Local prep girls basketball suffered a bit last year, with nearly every team except for West Liberty-Salem stuck in a middling position or worse.
This season, despite the graduation of a couple of stars, county teams expect to take a step forward.
At Graham, the Falcons have Sarah Flora, Bethany Horner, Kari Sollenberger and Kayla Tullis back.
“All four have great knowledge on the hardwood. Their experience and leadership will be the key to this year’s success,” GHS Coach Steve Flora said.
In addition to that corps, Alyssa Theodor, Katey Nash and Brooke Johannes will be available, as will Madi Vanscoy, Olivia Burr, Sara Masters and Lexi Neeld.
The Falcons want to finish atop the CBC/MRD, and Flora expects the girls to make a deeper run into the tournament.
“I believe if we stay healthy, understand and accept our roles and play as a unit, we will meet our goals,” Flora said.
At Urbana, the Hillclimbers will push the tempo, as they always do under Coach Bill Moss.
Senior Hunter Rogan will lead the way, offering a versatile presence as both a shooter and ball handler.
“She should be the leader of the team. It’s going to be ‘how far will Hunter lead us?’ That’s going to be the key,” Moss said.
Sophomore Alaina Lyons will likely run the point, with some wing action when Rogan has the ball. Bridget Ofori will be the primary post player for the Hillclimbers.
Madisyn Horn, Kinleigh White, Deserae Johnson, Cassidy James, Rachel Pickering and Kaylee Moffitt will also see some playing time.
“We’re just going to try to press and turn people over,” Moss said. “Hopefully we’ll play good defense and rebound – not turn the ball over. Some kids have been in soccer or volleyball, so we haven’t been all there. We’ll see.”
Urbana opens the season hosting the Skeeter Classic tonight and Saturday, featuring Mechanicsburg, Miami Valley and Jonathan Alder.
“It’s a great opener for us. We really like it. We have some good crowds and we have some good teams. It’s going to be a good tournament and we’ll get tested with some tough opponents early,” Moss said.
West Liberty-Salem may struggle more inside with the absence of Jamie Peterson in the middle, but the returning guards and wings are talented and dangerous on both ends of the floor.
Lily Yoder, Mikalia McIntosh, Taylor Lauck, Laine Godwin, Kelsey Day and Gabby Hollar will all be back, with Paige Shafer stepping into a varsity role.
The goals remain the same for the Tigers: win the Ohio Heritage Conference and prepare for the tournament.
“We got a little bit of a late start with the soccer season. We’ve been working very hard in practice,” WL-S Coach Dennis McIntosh said. The soccer team played late into the playoffs and heavily featured Yoder, McIntosh, Lauck, Hollar and Shafer.
The Tigers are small, but still expect to crash the boards as a team and harass opponents with their quickness and athleticism.
“We knew rebounding would be an issue for us. We’ll probably be addressing that all year long,” Coach McIntosh said. “We’re still going to crash the boards. A lot of it is instinct and positioning. Hopefully we can work through it.”
The best defense against lack of size is good, frenetic defense – something McIntosh thinks will be a key.
“We feel we have the athletes to really push the tempo. We’re trying to force people to make tough passes,” he said, adding that the scrimmages have been a success so far. “Hopefully that’ll carry over.”
At Triad, Jeff Merklin takes the helm for his first season with the team.
Alea Ferguson, Tori Thomas, Audrey Lightle and Kristin Bailey will all return after winning letters last season. Kaitlynn Pence suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason.
“Kaitlynn was a player who was going to play a lot of minutes for us, so her loss is significant. The return of this many lettermen is also somewhat deceptive, because with the graduation of Jenna Ober and Lydia Walls, approximately 60 percent of the team’s points and 40 percent of the team’s rebounds left the program,” Merklin said. “None of the returning letterwinners is a senior. Ferguson logged the most minutes of the returning players, but the reality is that we will have a very young and inexperienced team this year.”
Merklin has approached his team with three goals in mind. Since there are no seniors, he’s asking his kids to take a two-season approach to improving skill level and chemistry.
Secondly, he wants to bring more balance to the squad – something that wasn’t present in last year’s squad.
“It’s imperative that all of the girls be threats to score when they’re on the court,” Merklin said. “I believe the best girls basketball teams play 8-10 girls per game, as it is a hard, physical sport. And although the good teams almost always have one or two good scorers, they also have balance and all of the girls are confident enough in their abilities to be able to score when game situations dictate it.”
Mechanicsburg will feature returners Elly Schipfer, Shannon Barch, Meagan Hux and Mikayla Dodane, as well as newcomers Kasey Schipfer, Morgan Hamby and Emma Jones. Rosa Link returns after tearing her ACL prior to the season last year.
“I’m excited about this season. We’re going to be much improved,” M’burg Coach Christie Dodane said. “This season looks so bright. My kids are working hard and we’re quicker.”
The Indians will be a young team, but they’ll be more experienced than last year’s edition.
“The new kids bring a lot of talent and youth. They have a lot of potential. The kids we’re adding are a great addition,” Dodane said. “They’re excited and I like that they’re excited. They want to hang out together off the court, in their spare time. That’s always a good sign that they’re going to get along.”
The Indians want to have a winning record and a positive rebounding differential. They’re also working toward making a dent in turnover margin, aiming for more than 12 assists per game and less than 12 turnovers.
While Elly Schipfer and Dodane may again carry the majority of the load for M’burg, the team should have more options for a balanced attack.
“We don’t have any selfish players. So far in scrimmages, we’ve done well and they’re enjoying that success,” Dodane said.
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.