As sure as the sun rises and sets everyday, Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame will be competing for a state championship in the 33rd Annual Girls State Basketball Tournament at Ohio State’s Jerome Schottenstein Center for the fifth straight year.
The two-time defending state champion Cougars are on the prowl for their fourth state title in that five year span.
“It is something that we hope will happen (every year),” said second year head coach Dante Harlan. “We discuss it and it is the goal that we set. We know the biggest part is actually getting back to Columbus is the hardest part and keeping your kids focused throughout the stretch with teams coming after you with every game you play.
“Our girls love coming up (to Columbus) and we’ve been fortunate. There has been some luck involved but it is our kids goal year in and year out.”
Finishing the season ranked No. 2 in the state and currently ranked No. 21 in the country by ESPN, MND (24-2) most certainly has a target on its back every time the Cougars take the floor and get their opponents’ best effort.
But MND tries not to approach games that way.
“We don’t want (our players) to feel people are out to get them. We tell them that along with success come a lot of responsibility,” Harlan said. “When you have accomplished things that other teams would love to accomplish, they’re trying to knock you off. That is part of sports.
“We feel people are going to come play their hardest and we preach that any time we go on the court you’ve got to play your hardest for 32 minutes. If there is overtime, you have to play as hard as you can in overtime.”
Four of MND’s five starters average double digits in scoring with senior post Tia McBride leading the Cougars with 15.2 points per game. Juniors Gabby Smith and Kendall Hackney both average over 12 ppg and senior forward Channing Hillman nets 12.2.
McBride was selected to the All-Ohio third team and Hillman earned honorable mention recognition.
Freshman Kathryn Reynolds has been coming on strong of late rotating in the starting position with Hillman.
“She is a special young lady. She is very intelligent, knows the game very well and plays well with our kids,” said Harlan. “She has stepped in and I feel she has done a great job and matured over the season.
“She’s really given us some strong minutes and gives us some depth off the bench.”
Of course, most believe MND will be paired with West Chester Lakota West in the championship game Saturday, March 8 at 8 p.m. in what has grown into a fierce rivalry between two of Cincinnati’s top girls programs.
MND ended Lakota West’s season last year downing the Firebirds in the regional finals. This year, Lakota West (25-1) was bracketed in the Westerville region allowing for a potential state title game match up.
But MND faces a tough Toledo Central Catholic team in the semifinals first and is focused on just that.
“(Lakota West) is not even spoken about. It is not anything against Lakota West but we have a chore at hand. We’ve got to get through Toledo Central Catholic,” Harlan said. “We preach all the time one game at a time. We got back to Columbus and our focal point is strictly (Toledo Central Catholic).
One of MND’s two losses this season came in the season opener against Lakota West falling to the Firebirds 61-55.
“If we get that far and they get that far, it will not be about a revenge factor but it is about the fact that we are playing for a state championship title and just happen to have two teams that started off the season against each other,” said Harlan.
Despite overwhelming success on the hardwood, Lakota West is making its state basketball tournament debut in the school’s 11 year history.
“It is pretty exciting. Everybody is getting behind the girls,” head coach Andy Fishman said.
“It is a major landmark in our school’s history right now. I know the girls and the school administration and coaches take pride in representing the Lakota School District as the first girls basketball team to be playing in the state Final Four.”
The Firebirds are battle-tested having beaten No. 1-ranked and previously unbeaten Dublin Coffman in the regional finals in addition to wins over MND, Oak Ridge (Tenn.), Toledo Central Catholic, Pickerington North, Oak Hills, Dayton Chaminade-Julienne and Pickerington Central to name a few.
Lakota West’s only loss of the season came against South Euclid Regina – a Division III state qualifier.
“We’ll put our schedule up against most teams in the country,” said Fishman. “I believe these girls were nationally ranked at some point during the course of their high school season based on knocking off other teams that were nationally ranked.”
In fact, Lakota West is currently ranked No. 11 in the country by ESPN.
The Firebirds led by senior forward Amber Gray. A Tennessee recruit, Gray was named the Division I player of the year averaging 18.8 ppg this season and was selected to the girls McDonalds All-American team.
She is rated as the No. 4 player in the country by HoopGurlz.com in the class of 2008.
“We have so many incredibly hard workers in our program and so many talented players in the state of Ohio but you’d be hard pressed to find one who came in her freshman year and every year elevated her game to an incredible level,” said Fishman.
Junior guard Alexis Rogers nets 12.1 ppg and scored a team high 18 points against Coffman. St. Francis recruit Quinessa Johnson contributes 6.1 ppg from her guard position. Rogers earned All-Ohio honorable mention recognition this season.
Like MND, Lakota West is not thinking ahead to a potential title game match up with its Cincinnati area rival, but rather, the Firebirds are preparing for Youngstown Boardman in the semifinal round.
“Our girls have not mentioned another school other than the one we play in the next game,” said Fishman. “Boardman has an incredible program, history and coach. They are going to be ready to play and we’re going to have our girls ready to play.”
Both Toledo Central Catholic and Boardman pose tough challenges in for MND and Lakota West in the semifinals.
The No. 9 ranked Lady Irish are making their sixth state tournament appearance and are hoping the ‘Luck of the Irish’ brings them their first state championship having lost in the semifinals each of their first five appearances.
TCC (23-3) lost to Findlay in the regional finals last year but with four senior starters returning, the Lady Irish felt destined to reach the state tournament this season.
“I think everybody was expecting it to happen,” head coach Steve Pfahler said. “We go to the regional finals last year and these kids were focused on not having that bad feeling again like we did last year. I am real proud of them and the kids are excited.”
Lone junior starter Brianna Jones averaged 13.6 ppg in the post this season earning All-Ohio special mention recognition. Guard Sharise Calhoun, an Oakland (Mich.) recruit, netted 12 ppg earning honorable mention recognition while fellow seniors Katelyn Nowacki (9.1 ppg), Danielle Lewis (7.8 ppg) and Lauren Farrell (5.2 ppg) all contributed well for the Lady Irish.
“We try to take advantage of our talent and put it in the best place where we feel we’re going to be successful,” Pfahler said.
“Defensively, we create a lot of turnovers with our traps and presses. We’re fairly quick. Our guards have good quickness and our big kids run the floor well. We try and get up and down the floor as much as we can to get into a little bit of a track meet.”
Pfahler, who has a 356-76 record in 18 years at TCC, weighed in on semifinal opponent MND.
“They have done a great job with this program and it gives us an opportunity to see where we fit in with one of the best teams in the state,” he said. “I think most people would consider Mount Notre Dame and Lakota West the two best teams in the state. To have an opportunity to go up against them and compete is a great experience.
“They are a very, very good team. There is no doubt about it.”
But the respect doesn’t end there.
“I love their post players and have a lot of quickness in the backcourt. On top of that they are well-coached,” Harlan said of TCC. “They have a coaching staff that has been around the game a long time and it is going to be a battle. It’s not going to be easy.
“It is going to be a battle of them trying to impose their will on us and us doing the same to them. Whoever settles in first will be able to take control and hopefully it is us.”
Boardman (19-7) finished the season unranked but got hot in the postseason, including a 38-37 win over heavy favorite No. 5 North Canton Hoover.
The Spartans lost to Hoover earlier in the season by 27 points and head coach Ron Moschella points to that loss as a turning point in the season.
“The kids rededicated themselves the rest of the season and I think that was a real turning point,” he said. “They wanted to make a special run and worked hard and put in a lot of hours.”
Michigan State recruit Courtney Schiffauer paces the Spartans with 21 points and 10 rebounds per game and was a second team All-Ohio selection. Sophomore center Darryce Moore nets 16.1 ppg and had 19 in the 43-35 overtime win against Solon in the regional final game.
Boardman is just three years removed from its only other state tournament appearance in school history in which the Spartans fell to eventual state runner-up MND in the semifinals.
And the task is just as difficult this year with Lakota West on the docket.
“Obviously, they are an excellent basketball team,” said Moschella, who has a 529-129 record in 28 years at Boardman. “At one time they were the team to beat in Ohio. I just think they have so many weapons and that concerns me.”
He is particularly focused on Gray and Rogers.
“(Gray) is a good leaper and has a great shot,” he said. “I don’t know how we are going to figure (Rogers). She is very active under the board and plays great defense. I am really impressed with her performance as a basketball player.”
And Fishman is impressed with Boardman’s team as well.
“We play two contrasting styles but we are two basketball programs with talent and desire,” he said. “There is no way to look past a living coaching legend like that. The girls know that every time you play Boardman, it is a battle. They have beaten some very good basketball teams to get where they are.
“You always go in with a game plan but you always better have a back up plan and you better have an alternate plan for your back up plan,” he added. “We always want to be ready for anything.”
Division I State Basketball Tournament Vitals
Friday, March 7
6:00 p.m.: Youngstown Boardman (19-7) vs. West Chester Lakota West (25-1)
8:00 p.m.: Toledo Central Catholic (23-3) vs. Cincinnati Mt. Notre Dame (24-2)
Saturday, March 8
Division I: 8:30 p.m.
Girls Enrollment: 640
Final 2007-08 Ranking: Not Ranked
State Appearances: 2008, 2005
Head Coach: Ron Moschella
School Rec.: 529-129 (28 yrs.)
PPG: 55.4; OPP: 40.1
F 25 Courtney Schiffauer, 6-1, Sr., 21.0 ppg
C 44 Darryce Moore, 6-2, So., 16.1 ppg
G 32 Monica Touvelle, 5-8, So., 9.5 ppg
G 22 Emily Abraham, 5-4, Jr., 8.6 ppg
G 11 Katie Fiffick, 5-2, Jr., 3.1 ppg
Lakota West (25-1)
Location: West Chester
Girls Enrollment: 974
Final 2007-08 Ranking: 3rd
State Appearances: 2008
Head Coach: Andy Fishman
School Rec.: 177-79 (11 yrs.)
PPG: 67.4; OPP: 39.1
F 10 Amber Gray, 6-1, Sr., 18.8 ppg
C 00 Emma Zieverink, 5-11, Sr., 4.2 ppg
G 5 Caitlin Dombart, 5-9, Sr., 2.8 ppg
G 23 Quinessa Johnson, 5-8, Sr., 6.1 ppg
G 32 Alexis Rogers, 6-1, Jr., 12.1 ppg
Central Catholic (23-3)
Nickname: Fighting Irish
Girls Enrollment: 388
Final 2007-08 Ranking: 9th
State Appearances: 2008, 2001, 1999, 1998, 1987, 1977
Head Coach: Steve Pfahler
School Rec.: 356-76 (18 yrs.)
PPG: 67.1; OPP: 43.7
F 50 Brianna Jones, 6-2, Jr., 13.6 ppg
F 32 Katelyn Nowacki, 6-0, Sr., 9.1 ppg
G 30 Sharise Calhoun, 5-7, Sr, 12.0 ppg
G 24 Danielle Lewis, 5-6, Sr., 7.8 ppg
G 12 Lauren Farell, 5-5, Sr., 5.2 ppg
Mt. Notre Dame (24-2)
Girls Enrollment: 563
Final 2007-08 Ranking: 2nd
State Appearances: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 1989
Head Coach: Dante Harlan
School Rec.: 47-6 (2 yrs.)
PPG: 71.0; OPP: 43.5
P 34 Tia McBride, 6-0, Sr., 15.2 ppg
F 1 Channing Hillman, 6-0, Sr., 12.2 ppg
F 21 Kendall Hackney, 6-2, Jr., 12.4 ppg
G 33 Gabby Smith, 5-10, Jr., 12.0 ppg
G 13 Ashley Fowler, 5-6, Jr., 5.7 ppg
Lakota West over Boardman
Mount Notre Dame over Toledo Central Catholic
Mount Notre Dame over Lakota West