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2018 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 [email protected]
 
Girls Basketball State Tournament Preview
By Jim Dabbelt
 
Year in and year out, basketball in Ohio is extremely talented, and this year is no different. After battling through some grueling regional tournaments last week, the 16 remaining teams will be traveling to the capital city of Ohio, as the 43rd annual OHSAA girls’ basketball state tournament takes place at the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University Thursday through Saturday. Only one team, Gilmour Academy will return aiming to repeat as a state champion, but ironically that will be in a different division in 2018. Similar to last year, nine of the 16 Final Four schools come in with a previous history of a state championship.
 
There will be plenty of great teams and players to watch over the three days in Columbus, as girls’ basketball takes center stage. The Buckeye state is among the top three states in the country for producing basketball players at the next level, and several of them will be on display this weekend.
 
Division I
Wadsworth is no stranger to Columbus this time of year, as this is their sixth trip to the state final four, having won the championship in both 1997 and 2016. The Grizzlies (AP #9), led by longtime coach Andy Booth, are a member of the Suburban League and will bring in a very balanced attack with no starters averaging in double figures. Senior Sophia Fortner leads the way at 8.0 ppg., while being named first-team all-district and is headed to the University of Toledo next year. Another future Rocket, Lexi Lance (8.7 ppg.), joins senior Peyton Banks (9.0 ppg) as key players for the Grizzlies, with Banks honored as a third-team all-district player.
 
Mason (AP #7) makes a trip back to the state tournament after winning the crown in 2016, with this being their fifth time in the final four. To advance to Columbus, the Comets defeated Mount Notre Dame and Lakota West (AP #5) in the tough Southwest Regional. The Comets are led by Southwest District Division I Player of the Year, 6-foot-1 junior Sammie Puisis (17.6 ppg), who is headed to Florida State after next season. Mason played a very difficult schedule this season, and have been to the regionals the past three years. The Comets also have 6-foot senior Tu Fulton, who is headed to Florida Southwest and 5-foot-2 junior Sade Tucker, who averages 8.4 ppg. Mason stands 24-3 overall, and has outscored their opponents this season by an average of nearly 30 points per game.
 
Solon (AP #6) has reeled off seven consecutive district championships, and is making their fourth appearance at the state final four, including their third in the last four years. Coach Trish Kruse finished unbeaten in the Greater Cleveland Conference and have three players who have connected on over 40 three-pointers this season. A balanced scoring attack is led by the Northeast Lakes District Player of the Year, 6-foot-2 senior Valencia Myers (15.3 ppg), while Gabby Mitchell (11.8), Katherine Dittoe (10.7) and Mariah Modkins (10.0) round out a solid offensive attack. Mitchell was also a third-team all-district selection.
 
Rounding out the Division One final four is the top team in the final AP poll, Pickerington Central out of the tough Central District. Central has won three consecutive district titles, and in their storied history, the Tigers have captured six state championships and this is their eighth final four appearance.
Junior Madison Greene, a 5-foot-8 guard leads Pickerington Central as a first-team all-district player (11.1 ppg.), with 6-foot junior forward Maliya Perry also earning all-district honors. Perry contributed 12.6 points per game to lead the Tigers.
 
Division II
Bellbrook makes its first appearance at the state tournament since 2012 and the school’s third overall. They were 8-7 at one point during the season, and reeled off 12 wins in their next 13 games, including a hard-fought 47-41 victory over Tipp City Tippecanoe (AP #4) to advance out of the Springfield regionals. The Golden Eagles are led by second-team Southwest District point guard Cassidy Hofacker (11.6 ppg), as the 5-foot-8 floor leader is a 1,000-point career scorer and still uncommitted as of the final four. Another key senior guard for Bellbrook is 5-foot-7 Bekah Vine, a deadly perimeter shooter who was named all-district.
 
New Philadelphia comes off their second consecutive regional appearance, this time the Quakers advanced into the final four, their first in school history. Under the direction of East District Coach of the Year Tracy Payne, the Quakers put together a solid 25-2 season and a perfect 14-0 record to win the East Central Ohio League. Aaliyah Currence earned a first-team all-district selection, as the 5-10 junior led the Quakers at 19.1 points per game. Another junior Kate McEwan (8.4 ppg.) was also honored as a third-team all-district selection.
 
Gilmour Academy (AP #3) returns to the final four with the goal to repeat, after capturing the 2017 state championship in Division III. This is their third consecutive trip to the final four, as the Lancers enter this weekend 24-3 overall. Naz Hillmon, the 6-foot-2 senior headed to the University of Michigan was honored as the district Player of the Year. She averaged a double-double this season at 21 points and 14 rebounds per game, one of four players in double figures. Joining Hillmon is first-team all-district junior Annika Corcoran (11.1), along with Sarah Bohn, a second-team all-district selection (11.5) and Emma Gurley (11.7).
 
Toledo Rogers makes its third trip to Columbus in the last five years, but their first since 2015. The Rams return nine players from last year, led by first-team all-district and Player of the Year Zia Cooke, an explosive guard averaged 25.2 points per game this season. Freshman Madison Royal-Davis is also a first-team all-district player at 18.9 points, while junior Tanaziah Hines also scored in double figures (11.1). Rogers captured six district titles over a span of seven years, and has won seven straight Toledo City Athletic League championships. The #6 team in the final AP poll stunned #2 Bellevue in the regional finals.
 
Division III
Columbus Africentric is another of the more decorated teams who have advanced to the final four this year, as they have claimed five state championships, and this is their ninth overall appearances since 2007. Coach Will McKinney has led the Nubians (AP #6) to a 25-3 overall record this season with a lineup that consists of one junior, three sophomores and a freshman. The young group is led by a pair of first-team all-district players Jordan Horston, a 6-foot junior (18.1 ppg.) and Alexia Smith who is a 5-foot-8 sophomore (14.4). Horston was also the district Player of the Year. The high scoring Nubian squad averages 74 points per game, and outscores their opponents by over 40 points per game. Africentric advanced to the final four by defeating last year’s Division IV state champion Berlin Hiland in the regional finals 61-60 in overtime.
 
Versailles, who finished #1 in the final AP poll, makes its ninth trip to Columbus, with previous state titles in 2008 and 2015. The Tigers are led by longtime head coach Jacki Stonebraker, who comes into the state tournament with just shy of 300 career wins in her 15 years at Versailles. The Tigers are out of the tough Midwest Athletic Conference and will be led by first-team all-district and MAC Player of the Year Kami McEldowney (13.1 ppg.), an uncommitted 5-foot-7 senior point guard. A member of second-team all-district is 6-foot-2 senior Danielle Winner (10.8 ppg.) while 5-foot-11 junior Elizabeth Ording, named to the third-team.
 
Elyria Catholic makes their second appearance in the final four, with their other trip in 2011. The champion of the Great Lakes Conference is 22-5 on the season, they knocked off previously unbeaten Doylestown Chippewa (AP #4) in the regional finals to advance. The Panthers are led by first-team all-district 6-foot-1 sophomore Ally Winnen (12.8 ppg.), one of two players scoring in double figures. The other is 5-foot-6 junior Faith Williams, who was named a second-team all-district selection. Megan Scheibelhut, a 6-foot-2 was also selected to the third-team all-district.
 
For the fourth consecutive season, Ottawa Glandorf (AP #9) makes an appearance in Columbus for the final four, which includes a pair of state runner-up finishes in 2015 and 2016. The Titans boast the three-time Western Buckeye League Player of the Year Kadie Hempfling, a 5-foot-9 senior averaging 14.2 points per game. She was also named the top player in the Northwest District. Third-team all-district player Erin Kaufman is a 5-foot-6 junior. OG finished ninth in the final AP state poll.
 
Division IV
Waterford is making its fourth consecutive trip to Columbus, which includes a 2016 state championship. The Wildcats finished the season as the top ranked team in Division Four, and had to battle through two top-five AP ranked teams to get out of regionals. Alli Kern, a 5-foot-9 senior was named the Player of the Year in the Southeast District, averaging 15.0 points per game. Another first-team player was Megan Ball (14.5), a 5-foot-11 senior. Also named to the second-team was Rachael Adams (9.5), a 5-foot-8 senior.
 
Ottoville (AP #2) enters the final four 28-2 on the season, and makes their seventh appearance in Columbus. In 2005, the Big Green advanced to the championship game before finishing second. Bridget Landin, a 6-foot senior, was named first-team Northwest District along with co-Player of the Year, averaged 13.5 ppg., one of two players in double figures. Kasey Knippen, a 5-foot- junior also in scoring at a pace of 11 points per game. CJ Kemper is just shy of double figures at 9.5 ppg.
 
For the sixth time in its history, New Washington Buckeye Central will be appearing at the state tournament. It is their first time in Columbus since 1992, with the Buckettes claiming the 1985 state title with a win against Tipp City Bethel. Buckeye Central is led by Jenna Karl (15.0), a 5-foot-7 senior who was also named the Player of the Year in the Northwest District. Karl also broke the scoring record for both boys and girls at Buckeye Central, and currently has over 1,500 career points. Courtney Pifher, a 5-foot-11 junior (17.6) is also a first-team all-district player.
 
The Minster Wildcats hail from the Southwest District (AP #4) and bring a deep and balanced team for the school’s fourth trip to the state final four, with their last trip in 2010. The Wildcats have also won two state championships in 1998 and 2004. Two of the Wildcats starters have already made their college decisions, as senior Taylor Kogge, a 6-foot-2 forward (7.1 ppg.) is headed to Ohio Northern, and 6-foot-2 junior post Courtney Prenger (11.7) has verbally committed to Xavier University. Prenger was also honored as a first-team all-district player. Named third-team all-district is rising freshman Ivy Wolf, a 5-foot-8 point guard averaging just shy of 10 ppg.