Ottawa-Glandorf no longer can be considered an outsider to the elite of Division III after capturing the state crown in March. To defend their title, the Titans will have to overcome several traditional challengers along the
way, including Findlay Liberty-Benton, Sugarcreek Garaway, Anna
and Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph.
Ottawa-Glandorf no longer can be considered an outsider to the elite of Division III after capturing the state crown in March.
The Titans look capable of living up to their nickname again in 2008-09 as most of their key players are back for another run. However, they will have to overcome several traditional challengers along the way, including a few teams – Findlay Liberty-Benton, Sugarcreek Garaway and Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph – that are coming off highly successful seasons of their own.
The D-III level also houses pesky competitors with a history of deep tourney runs including Wheelersburg and Archbold, the second-winningest program in state history on any level behind only Canton McKinley.
TOP PLAYERS: WHO YOU WANT TO SEE
* Paul Honigford, 6-8, Soph., PF, Sugarcreek Garaway – Son of former Buckeye Jim Honigford can face the basket and defend inside.
* Aaron Craft, 6-1, Jr., SG, Findlay Liberty-Benton – Outstanding shooter and scrappy performer who committed to Tennessee over the summer.
* Kenny Kornowski, 6-7, Sr., PF, Smithville – Talented big man is coming off a junior campaign in which he averaged 18.5 ppg and was named first-team All-Ohio and Player of the Year in the Northeast Inland district.
* Phillip Beans, 6-8, Sr., C, Toledo Ottawa Hills – Strong, physical big man with some face-up ability and a consistent scorer (18.8 ppg). Committed to Holy Cross.
* Blake Justice, 6-1, Soph., G, Peebles – His varsity debut season netted 22.1 ppg and first-team all-district honors.
* Matthew McCollister, 5-7, Jr., PG, London Madison Plains
* Michael Lamb, 6-5, Sr., F, Proctorville Fairland
* Aaron Deister, 6-0, Sr., PG, Dayton Christian
* Clay Roll, 6-3, Sr., W, Frankfort Adena
* Skyler Simpson, 6-6, Jr., C, Centerburg
TEAMS TO WATCH
When the Rockets lost their third game of the season, 78-55, to Division IV New Knoxville, many people wrote them off. All they did after that was blitz through the rest of the regular-season schedule, storm all the way to the regional final and nip Columbus Academy with a state berth on the line, 75-74 in overtime. The season ended at 25-2 with a loss to Ottawa-Glandorf in the semis and with coach Matt Meyer being honored as the D-III Coach of the Year. Not a bad way to spend a winter.
Meyer has good anchor points inside with 6-4 senior Eric Niekamp, a starter last season, and 6-5 Nathan Snyder. Both are seniors. Also, a pair of juniors are ready to flourish in the form of 6-0 guard Jade Billing and 6-2 swingman Wesley Hunsucker, who also took the Value City Arena floor as starters against O-G.
Meyer enters his ninth season at Anna with a mark of 123-67.
Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph
The 13-man roster that VASJ took to the state tournament had eight seniors on it, including 6-7 post Klein Harper, 6-8 forward Dominick Haynes, 6-10 center Taylor Young, 6-4 forward Ashen Ward and 5-10 guard Nate Barnes. Therefore, all conventional wisdom would suggest that it will be a rebuilding year for coach Dave Wojciechowski. However, this is VASJ and this is Division III, a domain the Vikings have conquered since shifting down from D-II in the mid-1990s. It follows that Wojciechowski, who has compiled a record of 156-63 in nine years, can’t be counted out. Barnes, the Division III co-Player of the Year in Ohio last season, averaged 18.0 ppg and will be tough to replace. However, VASJ has a couple returnees in guards Scott Szczepinski and Jeff Albert. Szczepinski is a scrappy 6-0 senior; Albert a 5-8 junior.
Other returning players of note include senior forwards Bryan Morgan and Clinton Brewer.
The Eagles have things cooking. They rolled to the top spot in the AP rankings two seasons ago after an undefeated regular season before settling for runner-up status in the state tournament and a 26-1 record. Last season, even after losing four key seniors, longtime coach Steve Williman got his squad on another roll – a second straight 20-0 regular season and D-III state poll championship. But the goal is to finish the deal, and the Eagles were clipped in a district semifinal with St. Henry in March, losing stunningly by the score of 51-38 to finish 21-1. Again there are questions to go with the high hopes, but L-B now has a bona fide star in 6-1 junior guard Aaron Craft, who brings energy to both sides of the floor and produced 18.5 ppg as a soph, good for second-team All-Ohio honors. “Aaron is a very gifted athlete,” Williman said. “He is a very unselfish player who gets as much satisfaction from an assist as he does from a score. “I’ve always felt the best compliment that can be given to a player is that he makes other players better because of his presence on the court. I think that sums up what Aaron means to our team.” Craft learned a leadership role last season from Andy Smith, who chipped in 15.5 ppg as a senior. He’ll need more help this campaign, but Williman, who is entering his 23rd season and has more than 400 career wins, has a knack for balance. Plus, the Eagles also return 6-5 senior wing Derek Recker, who scored 10.9 ppg last season. Forward Justin Hyde, a 6-3 senior, also should maintain a starting role and classmate Scott Wallace could jump into a more developed role.
The Titans were just the 13th-ranked D-III team going into the postseason but won all eight contests thereafter by eight or more points to claim the title. O-G lost some key players, including 6-1 guard Justin Schomaeker, who posted 16.9 ppg last season and popped for 26 points in the title game. The Titans also got 15 points off the bench in that game from senior forward Jake Meyer and they also lose the services of starting forward Luke Bellman and starting guard Jake Pothast. However, coach Josh Leslie has plenty in place. Eric Brickner is slotted into the point guard spot after serving in a backup role last season. Taylor Kuhlman, the leading returning scorer, maintains his spot at shooting guard and Jacob Moening, who backed up Schomaeker last season, will play on the wing. All three are seniors. Colton Everett will start at power forward and Brent Kuhlman (no relation) is slated to play the pivot. Both are 6-4 seniors – and like the members of the backcourt they enter the campaign with invaluable postseason experience. Plus, there is more talent in reserve. “We’ll play 10 guys, maybe 12 early in the year,” Leslie said. “We have seven of our top 11 players back and the guys filling those spots are from our JV team that went 18-2 last season. We like what we have.”
O-G once again will apply pressure. “These guys are not satisfied,” he said. “They’ve worked as hard or harder than the year before. I see a group that is hungry to get back to states.”
The team Ottawa-Glandorf defeated in the state championship, Sugarcreek Garaway, is operating with a hunger of its own. The Pirates, 24-4 last season, will be challenged to return to Columbus given the loss of Tyler Gerber, a 5-10 guard who averaged right around 20 ppg last season, and 5- 10 Chase Stingel, who chipped in 11.7 ppg.
That backcourt was consistently menacing to opponents last season, especially Gerber, who added about five assists and three steals per contest. However, if fifth-year coach Dave Shutt can find consistency from his ball handlers this season, SG could be dangerous again. “That would be our goal, to get back to the state tournament, but obviously it is going to be tough to fill those guys’ shoes,” Shutt said. Standout 6-8 sophomore forward Paul Honigford is expected to be even better after an eye-opening freshman season and he’ll be rejoined by 6-2 senior forward David Gerber and 5-11 senior guard Devin Schie, who happen to be the school’s quarterback and running back in the fall. Junior Brennan Mullett is expected to help Schie with some of the backcourt duties and Shutt has plenty of other candidates such as Caleb Hostetler and Luke Yoder, two more diminutive seniors. “Our keys to success will be being able to take care of the ball and not turn it over and finding players who can come off the bench and contribute,” Shutt said.
The Blue Streaks are looking for more success even after losing district POY Gene Goering, a 6-3 guard who scored 20.1 ppg.
Cincinnati North College Hill
Onetime home of former Mr. Basketball O.J. Mayo is a perennial D-III contender.
Beverly Fort Frye
The Cadets figure to be led by seniors Brandt Thieman and Jarrod Arnold. Thieman can play all over the court at 6-4.
Maria Stein Marion Local
The losses for the Flyers include the aptly named Jordan Winner, a 6-6 inside force who will be hard to replace.
Tom Barrick says his team is not a contender this year but some believe the 15th-year coach still has a dangerous outfit.
Also Keep An Eye On
Chillicothe Huntington, Dayton Christian, Ironton, Portsmouth, Smithville.