Three of the four teams from last year’s state tournament – defending
state champion Berlin Hiland, Columbus Africentric and Convoy Crestview
– earned return tickets to Columbus for this year’s dance. And all
three are red-carpet worthy. Carey is the new kid. Complete Preview.
Three of the four teams from last year’s state tournament – defending state champion Berlin Hiland, Columbus Africentric and Convoy Crestview – earned return tickets to Columbus for this year’s dance. And all three are red-carpet worthy.
Hiland has history on its side, having won three of the last four state titles. This is the Hawks 10th trip to state.
Africentric – the state champion in 2007 – is back for the third straight season and has a rematch with undefeated Crestview in the semifinals. Last year the Nubians beat the Knights 47-42.
The lone newcomer is first-time participant Carey.
Will Africentric and Hiland meet in the final for the third straight season or will Crestview take home the title? Can Carey surprise everyone? All questions will be answered Thursday.
1 p.m., Thursday: Columbus Africentric (21-4) vs Convoy Crestview (25-0) 3 p.m., Thursday: Berlin Hiland (25-1) vs Carey (23-2) 10:45 a.m., Saturday: State Final
BERLIN HILAND (25-1) Location: Berlin Nickname: Hawks Girls Enrollment: 115 Final ‘09 Ranking: 2nd State Appearances: 2009, 2008, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2000, 1999, 1997, 1990, 1989 Head Coach: Dave Schlabach School Rec.: 397-56 (18 yrs.) PPG: 68.9; OPP: 32.7 Probable Starters: F 44 Katelyn Stuckey, 5-11, Jr., 10.0 ppg G 12 Karli Mast, 5-7, Sr., 15.0 ppg G 30 Hilary Weaver, 5-7, Jr., 11.7 ppg G 32 Mykeila Mast, 5-7, Jr., 7.4 ppg G 34 Jessica Stutzman, 5-7, Jr., 2.1 ppg
DIFFERENT LOOK The name on the front of the jersey is the same, but quite a few on the back are different.
Last year, with a senior laden squad, including four starters, Hiland captured its fourth state title and third in four years.
This year, in its 10th trip to state, the Hawks have four freshman in the rotation and one senior total (Karli Mast).
“(This team) has learned to mesh over the course of time,” Schlabach said. “We were a little ugly at periods throughout the year just because of playing the amount of freshmen we did. But we felt if we were going to be our usual, deep style, we just needed to play a lot of kids again. Last year we were so experienced and ready for anything.”
Despite the influx of youth, Hiland is still top-heavy with experience and skill.
According to Ohio girls basketball guru Tom Jenkins of the Ohio Girls Basketball Report, the Hawks own “ the best four-guard combination in the state” in any division with junior reserve Noelle Yoder, Weaver and the Mast sisters.
Hiland’s experience was evident in the regional final against Cleveland Lutheran East when the Hawks turned a one-point game after three quarters into a 63-43 blowout thanks to a 29-10 fourth quarter.
Hiland’s lone loss is a 55-42 setback to Twinsburg in the Classic in the Country.
CLOCKWORK With this being Hiland’s seventh trip to state since 1999, the Hawks are rather comfortable with the drive south.
“I pulled out the ‘08 state folder today,” Schlabach said. “It becomes much easier just in trying to figure out what has worked in the past with where to practice down there, when to leave and how to get a meal set up. The fact that not just me but the entire staff has been around forever seems to be really helpful too.”
As for the competition, this trip may present Hiland's closet opponent ever in terms of style of play.
“Without a doubt we’re similar,” Schlabach said. “(Carey head coach Phil Vaughn) is going to play his nine kids and we’re going to play our 9-10 kids. We’ve both got great guard play and the thing with Carey that I’ve been so impressed by is just by how hard they play. The thing they do best is their pressure. We’ve seen them just flat out wear out teams in the tournament. If I’m a fan I’m thinking this will be a fun game to watch.”
Hiland employs a transition game (tries to play nine players per quarter) with a lot of man-to-man and full-court pressure.
Said Schlabach: “We’re too stubborn to do something else.”
STATE OR BUST The goal at Hiland never changes. No matter how outrageous.
“I guess that is the easy thing with us – it’s just always the goal of a state championship,” Schlabach said. “Obviously some years that doesn’t happen and we’re disappointed but we set the goal out there. We talk about it every day in practice from Day One. It would be easy to say we’re in a rebuilding year, but we’re just not interested in doing that.
“The goal is always the same.”
Some coaches feel the other way, taking a “one game at a time” approach. Schlabach is against that.
“I got that from a former coach here at Hiland – Perry Reese,” Schlabach said. “We just feel like if you don’t set the goal for a state title and try to figure out what it’s going to take to get there you really don’t have a shot. We’ve always felt we’re going to make that a goal. You set yourself up for some disappointment, but that’s alright.
“We’re shooting for it every year. It’s something we’re used to. We tell our kids if we give them a uniform we expect them to make plays.”
Surprisingly, Hiland has only 16 players in its high school program.
“The kids that stick with it and hang with it work really, really hard,” Schlabach said. “We have great quality.”
CAREY (23-2) Location: Carey Nickname: Blue Devils Girls Enrollment: 121 Final ‘09 Ranking: 13th State Appearances: 2009 Head Coach: Phil Vaughn School Rec.: 23-2 (1 yr.) PPG: 57.6; OPP: 34.9 Probable Starters: F 30 Brooke Distel, 5-9, Sr., 8.1 ppg F 33 Julie Hill, 5-7, Sr., 4.7 ppg G 14 Taelor Vaughn, 5-7, Sr., 4.7 ppg G 20 Healy Batton, 5-6, Sr., 4.7 ppg G 24 Courtney Holsinger, 5-5, Sr., 8.5 ppg
SEASONED The Blue Devils have had a season to remember already. Despite never having won a district title before, Carey finds itself in the state tournament. Twists to the tale include a first-year head coach, a 1,000-point scorer who comes off the bench and a deep senior class at one of the state’s smallest schools.
“We finished 16-5 last year and really had no set plan when the season ended,” Vaughn said. “We only lost one senior and the JV team (he was the coach) was pretty successful. We knew we had a lot of girls who would be competitive. And that competition has led to good things.”
The Blue Devils, despite their student body size, are the only team in any division at the state tournament that starts five seniors. They have nine total on the roster, including leading scorer Karrah Windau (14 points per game) who doesn’t start and comes off the bench.
"I think (keeping this many seniors) is something that I just had to make a decision on,” Vaughn said. “I don’t think it was something we were necessarily looking to do. We didn’t know leading up to this year what was going to happen. But this summer these kids made a commitment to playing basketball and I kind of new then that we had quality in the senior class.”
In Carey’s 48-45 win over New Riegel in the regional final, eight different Blue Devils scored.
STYLES Vaughn expects a full-court game with Hiland.
“Neither of us really rely on post play a lot,” the coach said. “With our lack of size we open things up a lot.”
Defensively the Blue Devils will employ man-to-man, the goal to “contain and contest shots” according to Vaughn.
FAMILIAR Carey is a member of the Midland Athletic League. So is New Riegel, whom Hiland beat in last year’s D-IV state semifinals. The Blue Devils were there.
“We have a lot of respect for Hiland,” Vaughn said. “We went and watched them last year when they played New Riegel and we’re looking forward to playing them.
“There’s no doubt the kids effort level will be high but I’m sure their nerves will be too. It’s easy for me to say, but I’ll just tell them to go play their game. We’ll try to be aggressive but still be comfortable.”
WELL AWARE Windau’s prowess hasn’t gone unnoticed. Schlabach is impressed.
“The Windau girl is the best guard we have played this year without a doubt,” the Hiland coach said. “She reminds me a lot of a former player of ours named Lindsey Stuckey. And she’s surrounded by 7-8 kids who are ready to knock down shots.”
COLUMBUS AFRICENTRIC (21-4) Location: Columbus Nickname: Nubians Girls Enrollment: 123 Final ‘09 Ranking: 4th State Appearances: 2009, 2008, 2007 Head Coach: William McKinney School Rec.: 122-27 (6 yrs.) PPG: 78.1; OPP: 36.3 Probable Starters: F 2 Ashar Harris, 5-10, Sr., 16.6 ppg F 15 Brein Babbs, 5-10, So., 8.4 ppg F 31 Raven Ferguson, 5-10, So., 19.6 ppg G 1 Shardai Morrison-Fountain, 5-5, Sr., 14.8 ppg G 12 Chelsea Chambers, 5-5, So., 4.6 ppg
MAGIC NUMBER The magic number for Africentric is 3…as in third straight time to the state finals and three-headed monster. The Nubians have a lot of talent in the trio of Harris, Ferguson and Morris-Fountain.
Harris is headed to Morehead State University and was named the AP’s Central District player of the year. A three-year starter, McKinney calls her “the backbone of the team.”
Morrison-Fountain, a Marshall University recruit, is the District 10 Coaches Association player of the year and was first team All-Columbus City League. She’s a four-year starter and “the head of the group” according to McKinney.
Ferguson, who is current NBAer and former Ohio Mr. Basketball winner O.J. Mayo’s cousin, is one of the nation’s top sophomores. The Nubians leading scorer, she’s ranked the No. 5 small forward in the country by the College Girls Basketball Report.
Said McKinney: “She’s pretty much the person who puts the ball in the basket for us.”
In a 61-35 win over Harvest Prep in the regional final, Ferguson had 21 points and 14 rebounds.
Babbs and Chambers are no slouches and neither is any of the other four girls McKinney brings off the bench.
“We’re much deeper than we were last year,” McKinney said. “The funny thing about last year’s team was that since I was returning four starters and we had Raven who was pretty good people kind of got the idea that we were just a super team. People didn’t realize that I had 11 girls but only five of them had played in a high school postseason game before.
“To get to the state tournament I think you have to have at least seven solid kids. Last year we weren’t very experienced after our first five. This year we go 8-9 deep.”
HEYDEY IS OVER Africentric is only six years old. But that didn’t stop someone during Monday’s conference call from asking if the Nubians run was winding down – already.
“You know this year we have 11 people on our team and nine are coming back,” McKinney said. “Three of my starters are just sophomores with Raven being an All-American. My JV team was co-champs of the city league so I like how we’re looking for the future.
“And when you talk about our ‘heyday,’ I think folks seem to forget that (the school is) only six years old. We haven’t really had a heyday yet. Sometimes you have to be careful what you read.”
As for replacing two NCAA Division I recruits and making it back to state, Africentric has already done that. They lost Tyeasha Moss (Xavier) and Alesia Howard (UMass) off of last year’s runner-up team.
“A lot of people said the same thing last year when we were losing Moss and Howard,” McKinney said. “A lot of people said ‘Ah man they lost two big guns’ and this year we’re right back in the same situation.
“I think last year when we had this conference call we had the same conversation. It all depends on what the kids do during the summer and in the offseason. All my kids I know are signed up playing AAU basketball, running track and getting involved with volleyball. I have kids who consistently play.”
MORE PLEASE No team at the state tournament this weekend in any division averages more points than the Nubians (78.1).
“We like to get up and down,” McKinney said. “We try to score as many easy buckets as we can.”
Africentric will push the ball, utilizing speed and free throws. In the halfcourt it will run “as many screens as we can” according to McKinney.
Defensively the ball pressure will be 94-feet.
HIGH PRAISE McKinney is not overly excited about a semifinal rematch with Crestview.
“The thing about their team is they have six seniors coming back,” McKinney said. “I know they’ll have a different mindset (then last year) and be a very tough team to play against. To have everyone coming back is definitely a plus for them.
“Everything seems to run through the point guard (Jo Thompson) but those other young ladies know their roles and they are ready. Against teams like that you just have to be sound defensively and box out. Offensively we’re going to have to be patient and get to those boards. We’re going to have to somehow contain the point guard.”
So how much respect does McKinney have for the Knights? Last year he didn’t scout them at all. This year he drove to Van Wert.
“Last year we went into the game not knowing anything about them,” McKinney said. “This year we got out and got to see them.
“They are going to come out to play and they are going to leave everything out on the floor.”
CONVOY CRESTVIEW (25-0) Location: Convoy Nickname: Knights Girls Enrollment: 114 Final ‘09 Ranking: 1st State Appearances: 2009, 2008, 1985, 1976 Head Coach: Greg Rickard School Rec.: 304-122 (19 yrs.) PPG: 54.8; OPP: 25.2 Probable Starters: F 20 Kelsey Nedderman, 5-9, Sr., 10.1 ppg F 52 Carly Lichtensteiger, 5-8, Sr., 8.9 ppg C 42 Rachael Hall, 5-10, Sr., 5.6 ppg G 32 Melissa Eickholt, 5-5, Sr., 10.8 ppg G 5 Jo Thompson, 5-8, Jr., 10.3 ppg
TOUGH ROAD Crestview, ranked No. 1 in the AP state poll, has earned its ticket to Columbus by navigating a treacherous tournament trail. The Knights are 5-0 in the postseason against teams that are a combined 102-14. Some of their more notable victims include Delphos St. John’s (29-26), New Bremen (47-36) and South Charleston Southeastern (51-25). DSJ finished No. 5 in the state poll, while New Bremen was No. 3.
“We feel pretty fortunate to get back to the tournament with the schedule we’ve had to go through,” Rickard said. “We didn’t really talk too much about being undefeated as a goal because with the teams in our area that’s something that’s real hard to do. The girls just took it one game at a time and had high expectations.
“We’re glad to be back and have an opportunity to play (Africentric) again. We’ve been down this trail before, and this year was especially brutal. The girls have really had to earn what they’ve gotten to this point.”
Since losing to Africentric (47-42) in last year’s state semifinals, despite having the lead at halftime (22-20), the Knights are undefeated.
Over the last two years Crestview is 49-3.
“We knew last year we could compete with (Africentric),” Rickard said. “And I think based on what we did in that game we know we can play with them and anybody. The girls are confident.
“This is a hungry group.”
EXPERIENCE Crestview returns four starters from last year’s club including Nedderman, Lichtenstieger, Eickholt and Thompson. Hall is the lone newcomer.
According to Rickard, Eickholt is his team’s best shooting guard and a “very heads up player at both ends of the court.”
Nedderman blew out her ACL during the preseason last year but still managed to make it back in time for state.
Said Rickard: “This year she’s been more of herself.”
Lichtensteiger is the team’s top rebounder, while Thompson draws the assignment of guarding the opposition’s best player.
Hall adds size and is important in the paint at both ends.
Key reserves include seniors Libby Motycka and Kayla Etzler and sophomore Jessica Berger.
STRENGTH The Knights are the best defensive team at state regardless of division, giving up a lowly 25.2 points per game.
In a 37-19 regional final win over Cincinnati Seven Hills, Crestview didn’t allow a point in the second quarter.
The Knights play straight man-to-man.
“We rely a lot on defense,” Rickard said. “We don’t hold the ball or anything offensively and it’s not low scoring because we stall. On offense we’re patient but we’ll take a quick shot and push it up the floor if it’s there.”
Rebounding on the defensive end will be a key against Africentric.
In last year’s semifinal, the Nubians got 13 offensive boards and scored 16 second chance points. Africentric had 24 points in the paint total.
“We knew (Africentric was) quick but their offensive rebounding surprised us,” Rickard said. “They really went after the ball on the offensive end and that hurt us more than anything last year – giving up the offensive boards.”
BALANCED SCORING Offensively Crestview runs motion and has three players averaging between 10.8 and 10.1 points per game. Another averages 8.9.
“We’re pretty balanced,” Rickard said. “That’s helped us this year. If teams want to run a box and one on Melissa that’s fine because we have others that can score.
“It’s not a big deal.”
Semifinals: Crestview over Africentric; Hiland over Carey Finals: Crestview over Hiland