Mention can’t be made of the race for the Division III state championship without North College Hill leading the discussion. The last three years the Trojans have led in the state title game at the buzzer.
NCH goes for its fourth straight state championship this season, which is something no Ohio school has ever done. Columbus Wehrle (1988-90), Dayton Stivers (1928-30) and NCH have won three straight. Thirteen schools have won back-to-back titles.
As unrealistic as it sounded with the departure of O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker before the 2006-07 season, it’s no longer unrealistic to think the Trojans can’t win again. Senior guard Damon Butler is one of the state’s top players regardless of division and Alfonso McPherson is a presence in the post.
Look for the Trojans to get pushed hard by Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph. The Vikings are looking for their third straight state tournament appearance and payback for a 90-73 loss to NCH in the 2006 final. VASJ returns the reigning D-III player of the year in Ashen Ward.
* Ashen Ward, 6-3, Sr., G, Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph – Reigning D-III state player of the year averaged 14.7 points per game en route to leading Vikings to second straight D-III state tournament.
* Gene Goering, 6-3 Sr., F, Archbold – Four-year starter averaged 20 points last year after netting 19.2 as a sophomore. Was named second-team All-Ohio last season.
* Damon Butler, 6-0, Sr. G, North College Hill – Star of D-III state tournament last season averaged 19.4 points en route to third-team All-Ohio honors. He averaged 17.1 points per game as a sophomore.
* J.R. Weston, 6-5, Sr., G, Morral Ridgedale – Third-team D-IV All-Ohio last season after averaging 23.5 points per game. Averaged 21 points as a sophomore.
* Drew Spradlin, 6-5, Sr., F, Wheelersburg – Spradlin averaged 18 points last year after netting 15.3 as a sophomore. Had 14 points, six rebounds and three assists in state semifinal loss to North College Hill.
* Tyler Osterman, 6-2, Sr., G/F, Lemon-Monroe – Versatile player was Cincinnati’s second leading scorer (behind O.J. Mayo) as a sophomore, when he averaged 26 points. Last season, Osterman averaged 20.7 points and was named the Southwest District player of the year. Was also named special mention All-Ohio as a sophomore before earning second-team honors last season. Osterman is a standout quarterback.
* Nathanael Harney, 6-2, Sr., F, Middletown Madison – Two-time All-Ohioan averaged 19.4 points per game last season after scoring 21.5 as a sophomore. Was first-team All-Southwest District.
* Tyler Gerber, 5-9, Sr., G, Sugarcreek Garaway – Averaged 17.9 points per game last season en route to second-team All-Ohio honors.
* Zach Walton, 6-4, Sr., P, Utica – Was named third-team All-Ohio after averaging 18.5 points per game.
* Chris Crockett, 5-10, Sr., G, Columbus Academy – Football standout also excels on hardcourt. Averaged 23.6 points a year ago en route to earning first-team D-IV All-Ohio honors.
* Scott Voiers, 6-4, Sr., G, Rocky River Lutheran West – Team’s leading scorer a year ago was special mention All-Ohio. Has potential to score in bunches.
* Josh Kellough, 6-1, Sr., G, Chillicothe Huntington – Reigning Scioto Valley Conference player of the year and special mention All-Ohio.
* David Malone, 6-3, Sr., P, Richmond Heights – Selected first-team D-IV All-Ohio last season after averaging 20.1 points per game.
TEAMS TO WATCH
* Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph – The Vikings have made two straight D-III state tournaments and don’t be surprised if they stretch it to three. In addition to Ward, VASJ returns Nate Barnes (5-9, Sr. G) who was their leading scorer (15 points) in last year’s state semifinal loss to Findlay Liberty-Benton. Barnes was third-team All-Ohio. Size is not a problem for the Vikings who have senior post players Klein Harper (6-7) and Dominick Hayes (6-8). Harper grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds in last year’s state semi. Senior Brian Jenkins (5-8) and junior Scott Szczepinski (5-11) will contribute.
* North College Hill – No discussion of D-III state title contenders can be complete without mention of NCH. The Trojans are trying to become the eighth school to win four titles overall. Butler will challenge for state player of the year honors, while 6-4 senior Alfonso McPherson looks to provide power in the post. McPherson scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds in the state title game a year ago. Seniors Mike Green (6-3) and Mario Ward (6-4) add experience. Look for sophomores Barry Cobb (5-11, G) and Angelo Pruitt (6-4, F) to make significant contributions. Both logged extensive minutes last year.
* Sugarcreek Garaway – The Pirates ended last season ranked No. 6 in the final state poll before being upset by Beverly Fort Frye in a district semifinal. Garaway is now one of favorites in Athens regional. The Pirates return of point guard Tyler Gerber who will be a four-year starter. Also back are senior Chase Stingel and junior David Gerber (6-4). The difference maker could be 6-7 freshman Paul Honigford. Honigford, whose father Jim played at Ohio State, is considered one of the best freshman in the country. The Pirates also add 6-4 junior Colten Troyer. Troyer had to sit out his sophomore year after transferring from West Holmes. He practiced with the team last season.
* Wheelersburg – The Pirates have been to back-to-back D-III state tournaments. Spradlin returns as does starter Matt Jenkins (5-8, Sr., G). Key subs last season – seniors Caleb Brown and Dustin Cook – will play bigger roles this year.
* Findlay Liberty-Benton – The Eagles are coming off a state runner-up finish in D-III, but will be hard pressed to duplicate last year’s run. Graduation hit Liberty-Benton hard. One starter returns in sophomore Aaron Craft (6-0, G). Senior Andy Smith (6-2, W/P) is the only other returner that logged minutes in Columbus.
* Rocky River Lutheran West – The Longhorns were No. 5 in final state poll and advanced to regional final where they lost to VASJ (55-52). West had a 61-game regular season win streak snapped last season by Brooklyn. Voiers can light it up.
OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH
* Archbold – The Blue Streaks have been to the state semifinals three of the last five years. Denied a title each time. Goering is a talent and difference maker.
* Beverly Fort Frye – The Cadets lose Tyler Engle, but return everyone else. Senior Derek Thompson (6-5) is one of the best players in the Eastern District. He improved leaps and bounds during AAU play. Junior Brandt Thieman will be tough for opposing teams to deal with as he can play inside and out at 6-4. Also back are returning starters junior Jarrod Arnold and senior Mason Lang. Junior Tyler Stephens should be the other starter.
* Martins Ferry – The Riders will be a tough out for anybody with 6-6 sophomore Jordan Burress controlling the middle. Also back are seniors Derek Edwards and Tony Sabatino (coach’s son).
* Canton Central Catholic – CCC must get through VASJ to get to Columbus, but Eric Coggins and Nick Foster return to go along with seniors Joey Rhoades and Nate Hronec.
* Chillicothe Huntington – The Huntsmen made a district final last season before being ousted by Wheelersburg. With Kellough back, Huntington is favorite in Scioto Valley Conference.
* Tuscarawas Valley – The Trojans return four players — Jacob Brown, Steven Spillman (6-1, Sr.), Pat Kane (6-0, Sr.) and Kurt Elsasser (6-2, Sr.) — from a team that made a regional final last season.