Area leagues provide some of Ohio’s best girls basketball talentWritten by Scott Calhoun | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The 2007-08 area girls basketball scene is loaded with strong teams and fantastic players, meaning local fans are in for quite an exciting ride this winter.
The top five players in Division I Northwest Ohio could all hail from Lucas County when District voting ends in March.
The City League may boast four such players in Waite sophomore forward Natasha Howard, Central Catholic senior guard Sharise Calhoun, Irish junior center Brianna Jones and Notre Dame senior guard Patrice Lalor.
The senior-laden Lady Irish have Calhoun and Jones back to anchor a core of five returning starters from last year’s run to the D-I regional finals, which followed an appearance in the City League championship game won by Waite.
Calhoun figures to spearhead her team toward another shot at the league title before attempting to clear the regional final hurdle this season. Jones, a 6-foot-1-inch post player, is the second big piece to the Irish puzzle.
Coach Steve Pfaler has incredible senior depth with 5-foot-6-inch guard Danielle Lewis, 5-foot-5-inch guard Lauren Farell, 6-foot forward Katelyn Nowacki, 6-foot-2-inch center Ashley Frazier and 5-foot-9-inch center Paige Weaver all back to provide an army of seasoned talent.
Depth and experience, plus multiple star power makes the Irish maybe the best team in Northwest Ohio this winter.
It won’t be a cakewalk, however, if Waite and Notre Dame have anything to say about it.
While the Lady Indians said goodbye to All-District first team and three-time City League Player of the Year Shareese Ulis and key senior Anderia Allen, they return one of Ohio’s top sophomores in Howard, as well as senior starter Kendra Middlebrooks at forward. Add in Start senior transfer guard Keaira Marsenburg, and coach Manny May might have the league’s strongest threesome.
The 6-foot-3-inch Howard is one of the tallest stars in the area. That gives May an automatic inside advantage with sharpshooters Middlebrooks and Marsenburg able to take pressure off the post.
Waite needs Marsenburg to stay healthy (knee), and have 5-foot-8-inch junior forward Stephanie Keaton and 5-foot-7-inch sophomore guard Courtney Jackson continue to build off excellent seasons from a year ago. If that transpires, the Indians are a serious threat to thwart Central’s titles chances, and potentially return karma to the Irish after succumbing to them in a district semifinals upset last season.
“I think my coaching staff has been my biggest asset,” May said. “I don’t expect anything different than what I’ve expected from my other teams—a team that goes out and plays hard, works hard and plays great defense.”
At the corner of Monroe and Sylvania, Lalor is a favorable possibility to end her senior season as the league’s Player of the Year. For the Eagles to fly past the Irish and Indians, they’ll need more than Lalor to get it done.
Coach Rhett Boyd will rely on extreme team depth to make a push for the top of the league.
Five-foot-11-inch freshman Erica Donovan could be an immediate big-time contributor. Senior 5-foot-6-inch guard-forward Mackenzie Strall and junior guards Jasmine Blanton (5’9”) and Kasey Fought (5’8”) all started in games for Boyd last season.
“We feel that we have a very good backcourt,” said Boyd, “and we should be very good in terms of depth.”
That’s why Boyd intends to play 13 girls on his bench in an effort to counter the talent his team must face inside and outside the City League.
The Northern Lakes League may not boast as many prime time players as the City League, and continues on into a newfangled era that has neither Sylvania Southview nor Northview back to defend a conference title.
But the defending champion Lady Generals might be the best team in Northwest Ohio this year. Anthony Wayne junior forward Allison Papenfuss is the centerpiece as a returning District 7 first-team selection.
Under NLL Coach of the Year Justin Zemanski, the Generals bring three starters and seven overall lettermen back from a 20-2 season that boasted an undefeated league title.
Sophomore post player Taylor Leach transferred into AW from Saint Ursula to be the probable replacement for departed post star Jordan Sadowski.
Junior guards Jordan Floyd and Erika Schmidt (both 5’11”), and a third-year starting guard in 5-foot-3-inch junior Ashley Bromley, should comprise the rest of the starting lineup.
Returning for Perrysburg is 6-foot-3-inch senior Nicole Parrish, a fourth-year starter and the best post player in the league. She is three points away from 1,000 for her career.
But coach Mark Schrock must fill in major gaps left behind by graduated stars Ashley Parrish and Amber Feckley.
“Nicole obviously gives us a lot of experience that the other girls don’t have,” said Schrock, “and it will be interesting to see how some other girls in the league handle her this year.”
Returning junior guards Maddie Gutkoski, Aly Metzger and Demi Moschetti will be counted on to help Parrish.
If that happens, the Lady Jackets likely pose the most threat to the Generals’ title defense.
The Lady Kats and Lady Cougars may not be at the level of strength they’ve held in recent past, but each still has excellent coaching and enough talent to contend in the top-heavy NLL.
At Northview, longtime coach Jerry Sigler said this season’s performance would be determined by how much experience his young team gains playing a tough schedule.
Senior All-NLL 5-foot-8-inch guard Karli Kasper and sophomore 5-foot-10-inch post player Olivia Fouty should be big influences, Sigler said. Senior 5-foot-3-inch guard Brooke Taylor returns to provide senior leadership.
Junior 5-foot-4-inch guard Paige Maroney and junior forward Kelsey McCoy (6’0”) will also be counted on for productive play.
“We’re extremely young once again,” Sigler said. “But we’re a very athletic team. I think we’ll get up and down the court pretty quick.”
Coach Todd Bostater said his Southview team is going into a rebuilding year. That’s because senior guard Brooke Gates (5’8”) and senior post Afua Nantwi (5’11”) are his only returning starters, with four letter winners back overall.
Junior guards Krissy Rowe (5’8”) and Jenna Vermilya (5’9”) represent the other returning vets. Vermilya, Gates and Nantwi must provide outstanding floor leadership as tri-captains in order to help Bostater cultivate the remaining roster of first-year varsity players. Two freshmen and three sophomores will see considerable varsity time.
“We’re very young,” said Bostater, “and our lack of depth in the post is a weakness.”
Cardinal Stritch comes into the season as the favorite in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference.
Three starting Lady Cardinals return from a 13-7 season to set the foundation for coach Gary Lemle. Senior 5-foot-3-inch guard Cierra Dempsey is the top returning scorer after averaging over seven points per game last year. Senior forward Erin Mitchell (5’7”) comes back to start, as does junior 5-foot-8-inch forward Katie Gullet.
The problem for Stritch could be its height disadvantage @@ a no-no in basketball. Just one girl exceeds 5 feet 8 inches tall, so taller teams could weigh heavily on the Cardinals’ chances for a league crown.
Last year Ottawa Hills rolled to a 20-win season and an undefeated 12-0 TAAC title, but coach Sean Mercer’s program welcomes back just three letter winners. Mercer must count on senior guard Libby Overley, senior post-forward Kirsten Swonger and sophomore point guard Katherine Jamieson to reinvent the winning ways with an extensive youth movement needing to step up.
Jamieson is one of the area’s most dynamic players. She averaged 12 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as a freshman. She should only better those numbers this winter with more expected of her, Overley and Swonger.
“We’re expecting to get better as the season goes along,” said Mercer, “and want to be playing very well by the end of the season so we can hopefully make a good postseason run.”
Toledo Christian is the preseason runner-up choice. They have four varsity seniors and good height coming back to work with. The Lady Eagles will be paced by senior 6-foot-1-inch forward Tami Duvall, 5-foot-9-inch senior guard Shannon Longenecker and sophomore guard Kara Segler (5’6”).
While the elder leadership will certainly be there, a deep bench is not a likely scenario for the Eagles. How long Christian can run on a short tank will help determine what the season’s results will be.