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2017 Girls Basketball State Tournament Preview

Jim Dabbelt is the author of The Dabbelt Report, considered the premier girls’ basketball online source in Ohio. He is completing his 32nd year covering girls’ basketball in Ohio, and is also the sports editor for KBA News (New Carlisle News, Tippecanoe Gazette and Enon Eagle). During the day, Jim also works in a Cancer Center at Premier Health in the Dayton area. Follow Jim on Twitter @JDabbs86 or Facebook, and contact him at jmdabbelt@aol.com.
 
Girls Basketball State Tournament Preview
By Jim Dabbelt
 
As the 42nd annual OHSAA girls’ basketball state tournament takes place at the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University this weekend, tradition will be served, as nine of the 16 Final Four schools come in with a previous history of a state championship. Six of the nine former champions have won the gold during this decade, meaning many of these schools have enjoyed great success throughout the state tournament. In this year’s event, three of the four state champions from 2016 are back to defend their crown, with Alter going for a three-peat in Division II.
 
This time of year is always an exciting one at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus, as the girls’ and coaches from these 16 teams have an opportunity to complete a dream they first had back in November when the season began on Thanksgiving weekend.
 
Division I
There will be a new Division I champion crowned in 2017. None of the final four teams from last season have advanced back to Columbus.
 
Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame is 24-4 overall, and makes its eighth appearance in the final four, which includes five previous state championships. The Cougars ran off a string of four consecutive titles from 2006-2009, and after an eight-year hiatus, they return with Scott Rogers at the helm to attempt to bring home number six. Mount Notre Dame defeated last year’s state runner-up team Mason in the regional finals last weekend. Mount Notre Dame is led by 5-foot-8 sophomore Gabbie Marshall (14.4 ppg.), who earned a second-team all-district honor for her successful season. Also for the Cougars, 6-foot sophomore Julie Hoefling is a forward averaging just over 10 points per game with Abby Voss sitting at 9.5.
 
Canton McKinley comes in with a 23-5 record and is also no stranger to Columbus in March. This will be the Bulldogs’ fifth trip to the state final four, but their first since 2010 when they won the state championship. After surviving a 51-49 victory in the regional championship game against Solon, they look to represent Northeast Ohio and give that region their second consecutive Division I championship after Wadsworth won the title last season. McKinley brings in 6-foot-1 sophomore Kierstan Bell (25.9 ppg) who earned the Northeast Inland District Player of the Year, and is one of the most talented sophomores in Ohio. Also for the Bulldogs, Destinee Lee, a 5-foot-10 senior was an all-district player, while 5-foot-4 junior Chamera Young sits at 10 ppg.
 
Making its second state final four appearance in school history is Newark, which was also here in 2015. After missing last year, the #1 ranked team in the final Associated Press weekly poll from the Central District is back and primed for an attempt at a state championship. The 28-0 Wildcats are led by coach J.R. Shumate and advanced to the final four with a 66-54 win over Dublin Coffman in the regional finals.
Earning first-team all-Central District for the Wildcats was 5-foot-10 sophomore Katie Shumate (12.7 ppg), while named to the second-team was 5-9 sophomore Morgan Sharps (15.5 ppg). Those two sophomores are joined in the starting lineup by three seniors, meaning this team has solid experience to rely on in the Final Four.
 
Rounding out the Division I final four is 25-3 Toledo Notre Dame Academy, making its fifth appearance in Columbus. NDA advanced to the final four each year from 2012-2015, which included a state runner-up honor in 2015. After missing the final four last season, the Eagles make their return to the Schottenstein Center this weekend. Notre Dame Academy is led by 5-foot-7 senior Bre Hampton-Bey (14.1 ppg.) who not only scored her 1,000th point, but was recently honored as the AP Northwest District Division I Player of the Year. Joining Hampton-Bey in their potent lineup is second-team all-district player Mariah Copeland, a 5-foot-8 senior who also scored her 1,000th point.
 
Division II
They are back….and the Kettering Alter Knights are seeking a third-consecutive state championship. After finishing #2 in the final AP weekly poll, the 26-2 Knights had to survive a tough Southwest regional, defeating Tipp City Tippecanoe (AP #6) and Dayton Carroll (AP #7) to advance back to their familiar home in March. This is the fourth-consecutive trip to the final four and eighth in school history. The Knights are going for their fourth overall state championship. Chris Hart and Kendal Peck share the head coaching duties and the Knights will bring in a duo who shared the Division Two Southwest District Player of the Year with 5-foot-9 senior Libby Bazelak (15.5 ppg.) who is headed to Duquesne next season, and Braxtin Miller (5-foot-11) averaging 16.1 ppg. and is headed to Oklahoma State. 5-foot-7 senior Olivia Gillis was also all-district and provides a consistent outside game and leadership for the Knights. The senior class has an overall 114-5 record during their career, which is a state record.
 
Ottawa-Glandorf is back in Columbus and will attempt to defend their AP #1 ranking by bringing home its first state championship in school history. After not having been to the final four prior to 2015, the Northwest District Titans, 27-0 on the season, are now here for the third-consecutive season, which includes a runner-up finish in 2015. Like Alter with Bazelak and Miller, Glandorf returns their own one-two punch with 5-foot-9 junior Kadie Hempfling (12.3 ppg.), who was named first-team all-Northwest District, along with her teammate Kylie White (15.1 ppg.), a 5-foot-9 senior who was honored on the second-team and scored her 1,000th point this season.
 
For the girls’ basketball historians, Hathaway Brown is a very familiar name when it comes to the discussion of state champions. Not only are the 17-10 Blazers making their ninth overall appearance in Columbus, they brought home the gold five consecutive years from 2009-2013. After a two-year absence, they returned last year, and are back in 2017 for another run at the championship.
The Blazers are led by a first-team all-Northeast District player and recent 1,000-point scorer Dani Lawson (11.5 ppg.), a 6-foot-2 senior headed to Purdue, along with 5-foot-8 junior Jackie Carman averaging 14.3 ppg. and 5-foot-11 junior Hanna Harlor at 11.8 ppg.
 
Miami Trace previously made its lone appearance in the final four in 2010, now the Panthers are back and looking for their first state championship. They are led by a pair of first-team all-district players. Tanner Bryant, a 5-foot-11 junior averages 14.0 points per game, while 6-foot junior Victoria Fliehman, sits at 13 ppg. Coach Ben Ackley’s group from the Southeast District survived a two-point win against Tri-Valley in the regional finals to advance to the final four.
 
Division III
The defending state champion Columbus Africentric Nubians are back for more, as they are the defending Division III state champions. The 25-3 Nubians have won five overall state championships, including two of the last three years. They finished #4 in the final AP poll, and returns all five starters from last year’s championship team. Jordan Horston, a 6-foot sophomore averaging 12.5 ppg. was named first-team all-district for the Nubians, while 5-foot-7 senior Leah Morrow (10.6 ppg.) was honored on the second-team. Africentric represents the Central District.
 
Gates Mills Gilmour Academy makes a return trip to the final four after earning its first-ever school appearance in 2016. The Lancers finished #10 in the final AP rankings and advanced to Columbus following a win over Garrettsville Garfield in the regional finals last weekend. Naz Hillmon, a 6-foot-2 junior (15.6 ppg.) was honored as the Northeast Lakes District Player of the Year, while Emily Kelly, a 5-foot-10 senior (15.1 ppg.) was also named first-team all-district. Head coach Bob Beutel is one of only five coaches to coach two different teams to the final four.
 
Another familiar face to the Schottenstein Center are the Versailles Tigers from the Southwest District. Coach Jacki Stonebraker brings the 25-3 Tigers in for their eighth Final Four appearance in school history, as they look to win their third state title. The Tigers also won gold in 2008 and 2015, while finishing as runner-up in 2014. To advance to Columbus, the Tigers (AP #6) defeated AP #1 unbeaten Cincinnati Summit Country Day in the regional finals 55-38 in Springfield and will bring in first-team all-district guard Kami McEldowney, a 5-foot-6 junior averaging nearly 14 ppg. Danielle Winner is a solid inside threat, as the 6-foot-2 junior was also all-district, along with 6-foot sophomore Elizabeth Ording.
 
It has been 15 years since Sardina Eastern Brown from the Southeast District has been to the Final Four, but the Warriors are in Columbus for the first time since a three-year run from 2000-2002, which included a runner-up finish in 2001. The 26-1 Warriors, coached by Kevin Pickerill, are led by 6-foot-1 junior Allison Day (15.7 ppg.) who was honored as a first-team all-district player. Also 6-foot sophomore Alexa Pennington (10.6 ppg.) was named to the all-district second-team with 6-foot junior Mikayla Farris (10.0 ppg.) mentioned on third-team district.
 
Division IV
The defending Division IV state champions are back, as the Waterford Wildcats return to Columbus for the third-consecutive year. After finishing state runner-up in 2015, they defeated Fostoria St. Wendelin to capture the title last season. After losing
four senior starters, the 25-3 Wildcats return to the Schottenstein Center representing the Southeast District led by District Player of the Year Alli Kern (5-foot-9 Jr., 12.2 ppg.), along with another first-team district player, 5-foot-10 junior Megan Ball (13.4 ppg.).
 
Jackson Center out of the Southwest District likely had the toughest regional road to the final four, having to defeat New Madison Tri-Village (AP #2) and Minster (AP #5) to get to Columbus. This will be the fourth overall appearance for the 23-4 Tigers, having won the state championship in 1995 and 2001. First year coach Jeff Reese only returns two players from last year’s Final Four team, including second-team all-district player Cassie Meyer, a 5-foot-11 senior averaging 10.1 ppg. Also returning is 6-foot-2 junior Olivia Clark at the post position, while an emerging guard for the Tigers is junior Kennedie Reese, a 5-foot-5 junior who had a very productive regional final.
 
Ottoville comes down to Columbus from the Northwest District to make their sixth overall appearance at the state final four. The Big Green finished as state runner-up in 2005, and this is their first appearance in Columbus since 2013. As they defeated Old Fort in the regional finals, Ottoville comes into the final four 24-3 and led by 6-foot junior Bridget Landin (14.4 ppg.), who was honored as a first-team all-district player.
 
Coming into Columbus for the 15th time in school history are the Hawks of Berlin Hiland. They have won four state titles and have five runner-up trophies to their credit. Coach Dave Schlabach brings in the East District Player of the Year Angela Troyer, a 5-foot-9 senior averaging 16.2 ppg. Also, another two other first-team all-district players are Kennedy Schlabach, a 5-foot-6 junior averaging 14.3 ppg, while 5-foot-9 junior Morgan McMillen is a 5-foot-9 junior averaging 17.3 ppg.