Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame is looking for its fourth straight D-I state title. (Photo by Gary Housteau)
There is no questioning the dominance in Division I girls basketball of Southwest Ohio – particularly the Cincinnati area – in recent years. The last six state champions have hailed from that area of the state and early on it appears we can expect much of the same for the 2008-09 season.
Sometimes, things just click.
And for Mount Notre Dame girls basketball, things have been clicking for some time.
The Cougars made OHSAA history last season winning the Division I state title for the third straight year and it’s fourth in the last five years.
Last season’s title wasn’t without a bit of controversy, though, as freshman Kathryn Reynolds netted a layup at the buzzer to down southwest Ohio rival West Chester Lakota West 69-67 in the title game. The Lakota West side argued that Reynolds got the shot off late – but without official review – the call stood.
Regardless, there is no questioning the dominance of the MND program or that of southwest Ohio – particularly the Cincinnati area – in recent years. The last six state champions have hailed from that area of the state and early on it appears we can expect much of the same for the 2008-09 season.
The following is a look at the top players and teams in Division I to keep an eye on for the upcoming girls basketball season:
TOP PLAYERS: WHO YOU WANT TO SEE * Tiffani Blackman, 5-10, Jr., P, Toledo Start – The Collegiate Girls Basketball Report (CGBR) has Blackman rated as the No. 27. small forward in the country for the Class of 2010. * Phylesha Bullard, 6-1, Jr., P, Cincinnati Walnut Hills – Bullard had 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds last season for district finalist Walnut Hills. She is rated as the No. 20 small forward in the country in her class by CGBR. * Shawnta Dyer, 6-1½ , Jr., P, Marion Harding – Dyer is the No. 49 rated player in the country for the Class of 2010 by the CGBR following last season’s district championship. * Ashley Fowler, 5-6, Sr., PG, Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame – Fowler has been the quarterback of the MND offense in each of the last three state championships running the point since her freshman season. She is rated as one of the top 25 players in the state in her class and is an Ohio University recruit. * Kendall Hackney, 6-2, Sr., F, Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame – Hackney has been named the most outstanding player in the state tournament each of the last two years in MND’s last two state title runs. She averaged 12.4 points per game last season. Hackney is rated as the No. 17 player in the country at her position and No. 94 overall by the CGBR. She is a University of Southern California recruit. * Emilee Harmon, 6-2, Sr., W, Pickerington Central – Harmon earned first-team All-Ohio honors last season for the regional semifinalist Tigers averaging 18.8 points per game. Ohio State recruit, she is rated as the No. 7 prospect in the country at her position by the CGBR and No. 43 overall. * Dayeesha Hollins, 5-6, Sr., PG, Cincinnati Winton Woods – Hollins shot 50.9 percent from the field last season (good for fifth in the Fort Ancient Valley Conference) and averaged 11.7 points, 3.4 steals and 2.9 assists per game. She was named first team all-conference and verbally committed to the University of Michigan in early July. The CGBR has her rated as the No. 26 point guard in the country. * Natasha Howard, 6-3, Jr., PF, Toledo Waite – Howard earned first-team All-Ohio honors last season with 17.6 points and 12 rebounds per game. Both were tops in the Toledo City League. She was named the Toledo Blade Player of the Year and is considered by many to be the best girls cager to come out of that area in many years. The CGBR has Howard rated as the No. 2 power forward in the country for her class and No. 8 overall. * Brianna Jones, 6-2, Sr., PF/C, Toledo Central Catholic – Jones poured in 13.2 points per game last season for the state semifinalist Lady Irish. She rated as the No. 22 center in the country for her class by the CGBR and verbally committed to Illinois in late September. * T’Shera Lucas, 5-9, Jr., P, Reynoldsburg – The CGBR has Lucas rated as the No. 37 small forward in the country for her class. * Darryce Moore, 6-2, Jr., C, Youngstown Boardman – Moore committed to Ohio State in mid-October and is rated as the No. 14 center in the country in her class by the CGBR. * Allison Papenfus, 6-0, Sr., Whitehouse Anthony Wayne – Netting 21.1 points per game last season, Papenfus was named to the All-Ohio second team for Anthony Wayne and is a Bowling Green recruit. * Karisma Penn, 6-2, Sr., Shaker Heights – Penn earned third-team All-Ohio honors in the 2007-08 campaign with 19.3 points per game. She is rated as the No. 15 player in the country at her position by the CGBR. * Alexis Rogers, 6-1, Sr., PF/W, West Chester Lakota West – Rogers finished last season No. 7 in scoring in the Greater Miami Conference with 12.3 points per game and she led the conference in field goal percentage with a mark of 52.7 percent. Rogers, who is rated as the No. 2 power forward in the country and No. 23 overall, is a Duke recruit. * Mikaela Ruef, 6-3, Sr., W, Beavercreek – Ruef led the Greater Western Ohio Conference in rebounding last year with 11.2 per game and also contributed 13.1 points for district finalist Beavercreek. She is rated as the No. 27 player in the country by the CGBR and verbally committed to play college ball at Stanford in late September. * Brianna Sanders, 5-11, Sr., G, Cincinnati Princeton – Sanders played only about half the season last year but still managed to average 7.5 points per game for the Lady Vikings. She is rated at the No. 30 guard in the in country in her class by the CGBR and is an Ohio State recruit. * Cassie Sant, 6-2, Jr., C, Kettering Fairmont – The CGBR has Sant rated as the No. 40 center in the country for the Class of 2010. * Jasmine Shaw, 5-7, Sr., G, Cincinnati Winton Woods – Shaw led the FAVC is steals last season with 3.9 per game while netting 12.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. The CGBR has Shaw rated as the No. 47 small guard in the country for her class. * Gabby Smith, 5-10, Sr., G, Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame – Smith contributed 12 points per game last season for the state champion Cougars and has been a vital playmaker for MND since her freshman year. She is a Vanderbilt recruit. The CGBR has her rated as the No. 60 small guard in the country in her class. * Taylor Stanton, 6-0, Jr., P, Cincinnati Walnut Hills – Stanton poured in 14.6 points and 9.9 rebounds in 23 games last season. The CGBR has her rated as the No. 32 small forward in the country for the Class of 2010. * Asia Taylor, 6-1, Sr., PF/W, Columbus Whetstone – Taylor averaged 21 points per game last season and is a University of Louisville recruit selecting the Cardinals over major Big Ten, Big 12, Big East and ACC programs. She is rated as the No. 23 power forward in the country for the Class of 2009. * Samarie Walker, 6-1, Jr., W, Dayton Chaminade-Julienne – Walker was named first-team All-Southwest District and was an All-Ohio Special Mention honoree last season. She is currently considered the top prospect in the country for the Class of 2010 by ESPN.com’s HoopGurlz and is rated No. 2 by the CGBR.
TEAMS TO WATCH
Here are some of the key contenders in Division I:
Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame
Dante Harlan is entering his third season as MND head coach with a 49-6 record and is aiming to continue the winning tradition he helped build as an assistant coach and now as the leading man. MND graduated five seniors from last season’s title team but only two starters.
This will be a senior-laden team with 5-6 senior Ashley Fowler at guard and 6-2 senior forward Kendall Hackney and 5-10 senior guard Gabby Smith on the wings taking the reins. Super sophomore Kathryn Reynolds will play an even bigger role this season after exploding onto the scene her first season of high school basketball. Other role players include seniors Maria Redwine, Kara Friedman and Evy Iacono in the front court and seniors Amanda Wilken and Kristi Dricoll and junior Shelby Kissell in the front court.
Freshman Raeshawn Gaffney and Jazmin Hayes will see time in Redwine’s and Friedman’s positions as well. So, will MND make it an unprecedented fourth straight state title this season? On paper, it certainly looks like the Cougars have all the parts of the puzzle in place to put it all together.
The Lady Vikings finished 16-6 last season and were bounced out of the postseason in the district semifinals. In her seventh season as head coach, Jill Phillips is looking to take Princeton to the next step in a buzz saw of a region but will have to do it without eight seniors from last season’s team. Standout 5-11 senior guard Brianna Sanders looks to rebound from last season after missing nearly half the schedule due to injury. If she can stay healthy, she will provide the spark Princeton needs against a tough nonconference and Greater Miami Conference schedule. Senior forward Jerrhonda Stallworth saw about 21 minutes per game last season contributing 5.6 points and 2.6 rebounds.
Cincinnati Walnut Hills
Walnut Hills was ousted out of the postseason last year by eventual state champion MND but not before claiming the Fort Ancient Valley Conference Cardinal Division title with a perfect 10-0 record in the league.Taylor Stanton, a 6-0 junior post, is the center of the team – figuratively and literally. Joining Stanton this season will be senior forward Taylor Ware (19.0 ppg) and Bullard.
Cincinnati Winton Woods
The Lady Warriors finished a perfect 10-0 in the Fort Ancient Valley Conference Buckeye Division to claim the league title and finished the season 23-2 falling to Oak Hills by seven in the regional semifinals.Winton Woods loses seven seniors from last season’s squad but 5-6 senior point guard Dayeesha Hollins and 5-7 senior point guard Jasmine Shaw will provide leadership on and off the court this season. Seniors Vora Smith and Samantha Partore will step into starting roles in the front court after seeing limited action last season.
Like MND, C-J is another girls basketball program that has enjoyed great success. From the state title in 2005 to the runner-up finishes in 2001 and 2004 to Ms. Basketball award winners Tamika Williams and Maria Getty, the Lady Eagles are a mainstay on the statewide scene. And this season should be no different. It doesn’t hurt to have the top player in the country for the Class of 2010 in 6-1 junior wing Samari Walker but to also have junior post Shene Fleming, senior point guard Tyesha Jones and junior post Mileah Walker also helps. C-J finished last season 19-5 falling to state runner-up Lakota West in the district championship but has its sights on soaring back into the state tournament.
Shaker Heights reached a district championship game last season under fifth-year head coach Don Readance but the Raiders are looking for bigger things this season. With two starters returning in 6-2 senior post Karisma Penn and senior guard Jasmine Jones coupled with seniors A’licia Harrell and Tai Wright-Bey in the frontcourt and senior Charday Robinson in the back court, Shaker Heights could take that next step this season coming out of the region. Junior guard Byanca Henderson and junior forward Mary Clair were regular contributors last season and will have a presence on the court this season as well. Khadijah Young is a point guard transfer from Revere and will be a difference maker in the back court.
Toledo Central Catholic
The Lady Irish were a state semifinalist for the sixth time in school history last season but TCC was denied its first trip to the title game falling to MND. Following the graduation of seven seniors, the Lady Irish will rely on the leadership and play of 6-2 senior center Brianna Jones and senior guard Ashley Sujkowski against a tough Toledo City League schedule.
West Chester Lakota West
Noticeably missing from this season’s Lady Firebirds squad will be Ms. Basketball award winner and McDonald’s All-American Amber Gray, who is playing her college ball for Tennessee. In addition to the departure of Gray, six other seniors from last season have moved on. Standout 6-1 senior forward Alexis Rogers will be the focal point of the West squad while senior guard Tess Elkins and junior Brittany Harriel step into the post. Post Erica Almady has moved to Cleveland and is now at Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown. Despite taking a heavy hit to graduation, West still needs to be considered one of the top teams in the state as head coach Andy Fishman has built a formidable, successful program in his 12 seasons at the helm.
The Spartans reached the state tournament for just the second time in school history last season. Though All-Ohio selection Courtney Schiffauer is off to Michigan State, she is only one of two seniors lost from last season’s team making Boardman a legitimate contender to get back to Columbus. Senior guards Katie Fiffick and Emily Abraham will be featured in the backcourt as well as junior Doriyon Glass and Monica Touvelle, although Glass has battled injury in the offseason. Junior post Darryce Moore, an Ohio State recruit, will hold court in the paint as all five players saw significant time last season. This Boardman team has the experience and potential to bring the state title back to northeast Ohio – the first since North Canton Hoover’s championship in 2002.
ALSO KEEP AN EYE ON
Toledo Start, Green, Marion Harding, Pickerington Central, Mason, North Canton Hoover, Kettering Fairmont, Beavercreek, Akron Kenmore, Springboro, Dublin Scioto, Dublin Coffman, Solon, Lorain Admiral King, Toledo Waite, Mayfield, Twinsburg and Canton McKinley