Mount Notre Dame aiming for fourth straight D-I title


Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame is going for its fourth straight D-I state title. (Photo by John Ritter)

Dante Harlan doesn’t expect to get much sleep over the next four to
five weeks. Of course, that’s nothing new for the Cincinnati Mount
Notre Dame girls’ basketball coach. Harlan and the Cougars are looking to make history – or rather add to their already established past.

Dante Harlan doesn’t expect to get much sleep over the next four to five weeks. Of course, that’s nothing new for the Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame girls’ basketball coach.

This is the time of the year Harlan equates taking a nap as celebration. If MND wins the state title, Harlan allows the team to enjoy their moment.

But, Harlan’s relentless focus and detailed scouting and preparation isn’t only reserved for winter. Like several elite coaches, Harlan started to analyze his offensive and defensive schemes in the spring and early summer last year.

“I’m not going to have fun (during the postseason),” Harlan said. “During this time, I have to earn my keep. I use this time to try to separate myself from other coaches.”

Harlan should know. He has been instrumental in helping the Cougars become a national basketball power this decade. He was first an assistant under Dr. Scott Rogers and has been the head coach for the past two state titles.

“Last year’s team and this year clearly had (Dante’s) signature,” said Tom Jenkins, director of the Ohio Girls’ Basketball Report. “He continues to do a phenomenal job. He does a good job of evaluating the players on his team. That’s the key to MND – they change their philosophy and schemes to fit their personnel.”

MND (18-1, 9-0 Girls’ Greater Cincinnati League-Scarlet), which has won three consecutive Division I state titles, could continue to write history this March if it wins another state title. The Cougars would become the first Ohio school to win four consecutive titles in any division since South Euclid Regina (2000-03).

The MND players are well aware of what is at stake, but Harlan said he told his players not to worry about the pressure and hype. Harlan said he would absorb the stress – especially for the three top seniors – point guard Ashley Fowler (Ohio University), guard Gabby Smith (Vanderbilt) and forward Kendall Hackney (Southern California).

“The battle cry has been to have fun and embrace the moment,” Harlan said.

That will be a crucial motto for the Cougars the next several weeks. As one of the nation’s top teams, MND has experienced its share of frustrations the past 11 months.

After a controversial state title game last season, the Cougars encountered critics throughout the summer at AAU games or in pick-up games.

Harlan got his team past that emotional time and MND was briefly No. 1 in the nation, according to some publications this season. MND lost that spot when it lost Jan. 18 against a New Jersey team.

More recently, the Cougars were snubbed in a Cincinnati Enquirer area coaches’ poll when Winton Woods was voted the champion. MND tied with Lakota West for second.
Harlan admits he was frustrated with the result, but if it’s another good omen to the state title, then he’ll take it. It was the fourth consecutive season MND has not won the Cincinnati poll and Harlan said everything will be decided on the court eventually.

Top-seeded MND, which is rated No. 21 in USA Today, begins its postseason journey Thursday (Feb. 19) when it plays Amelia in a sectional tournament opener at 7:30 p.m. at Milford.

Make no mistake MND is a strong favorite to advance to the Fairborn regional, but Jenkins said the southwest portion of the state has more parody than in the past three or four years.

“This year will be the toughest challenge for MND to get out of the southwest,” Jenkins said. “If they survive the southwest, they will be favored in Columbus.”

Winton Woods (20-0), Beavercreek (17-2), Fairmont (17-3) and Chaminade-Julienne (14-6) are among the teams that pose the greatest threat to the Cougars.

“We haven’t even talked about getting to state,” Harlan said. “People say we are supposed to win the state title, but I’m not looking at that. In order to be the state champion, we look forward to the challenge ourselves.”

Fowler (7.5 ppg. and 4.8 apg.), Smith (12.4 ppg. and 5.2 rpg.) and Hackney (12.6 ppg. and 6.7 rpg.) are certainly the key ingredients to the MND machine.

“Those three players have to bond together to lead this team,” Jenkins said. “I don’t think it’s incumbent on any one of them – they have to do it arm in arm.”

Other players like senior guards Maria Redwine and Evy Iacono will be key contributors. Junior forward Shelby Kissel, sophomore guard Kathryn Reynolds and freshman standout Raeshaun Gaffney show the team has plenty of depth for this year and beyond.

Harlan said his squad is healthy and ready.

“It’s been a relief – (the players) are happy to get to the postseason,” Harlan said. “This is what you play for, to be in the postseason. They are excited about it.”

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