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2020 Girls Basketball State Tournament Preview

2020 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 34th year covering girls’ basketball in Ohio and is the sports editor for the Tippecanoe Gazette. During the day, Jim also works in a Cancer Center at Premier Health in the Dayton area. He is also a member of the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association. You can follow Jim on Twitter @JDabbs86 or Facebook and contact him at [email protected].
2020 Girls Basketball State Tournament Preview
By Jim Dabbelt
Three months ago, girls basketball teams from all across Ohio began their season with one dream and one goal in mind…to make it to the state championship weekend. Sixteen teams from all parts of the Buckeye state have accomplished that goal and will step onto the floor at St. John Arena with their eye on the big prize, the state title.
The 45th annual OHSAA girls’ basketball state tournament will take place over the next three days in a venue that was once the home of these championship games. The teams will again be crowned on center court here at St. John Arena and again this year, the talent will be second to none around the country.
Every year, the talent level in Ohio is talked about among the best in the nation. This year will be no different as these three days will produce a lot of great memories for these talented teams. Ohio produces champions, and this weekend, four teams will head home with the hardware and the lifetime memories of being called a state champion.
Division I
Newark (#2 in final AP poll) makes its third appearance at the state tournament, with their last one being in 2017. They are led by 6’1” first-team all-district junior Emma Shumate, averaging 15.0 ppg. Another key player is 5’9” senior Gabby Stare, also a first-team all-district player at 13.4 ppg. Rising sophomore Maddie Vejsicky also averages double figures at 12.8. Newark won its sixth straight district title this season and averages 63.7 points per game a team.
Canton Glen Oak returns to the Final Four after an appearance last season. This will be the Eagles fifth trip to Columbus as they have put together an outstanding tournament run. Alexis Lemire, a 5’5” senior, is their floor leader averaging 12.9 points per game, the only player in double figures. They do have two others close with 6-foot senior Makenzie Green (9.7) and 5’5” sophomore guard Brielle Williams (9.6). The Golden Eagles will look to bring home their second state championship in school history, with their other title occurring in 1989.
One of the most familiar names to compete for a state championship is Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame (AP #1), as this will be the school’s 10th Final Four appearance. The Cougars, who won the Division I state title last season, have won seven state championships in their history. Mount Notre Dame is led by sophomore KK Bransford, who just scored her 1,000th career point in the regionals, as the 5’10” guard was selected first-team all-district and averages 20.2 ppg. University of Dayton signee Makira Cook, a 5’6” senior was also honored all-district as she pours in 17.6 and has reached the 1,000-point mark. Junior Laila Phelia adds solid scoring to the Cougars attack.
Advancing to the Final Four from the Norwalk Regional is Toledo Notre Dame Academy, who defeated Perrysburg in the regional finals. Notre Dame Academy finished seventh in the final AP poll and is led by 6’3” sophomore Grace Van Slooten, who was honored as an all-district player and scores at a rate of 15.6 ppg. Notre Dame Academy has yet to bring home a state championship but does have two runner-up finishes and seven trips to the Final Four in the last nine years. They have also won nine straight conference championships.
Division II
There will be a new champion in Division II as the two-time defending champion Toledo Rogers did not advance to Columbus this season. The team they beat last season in the state final is back, as Dayton Carroll makes a return to the Final Four this season. The Patriots are led by all-district wing Julia Keller, a 6-foot senior (13.4 points per game), along with veteran point guard Allie Stefanek, a 5’6”senior playmaker and the emergence of two players who have seen their game grow this season; Megan Leraas (5’10” junior) and Sarah Ochs (5’5” sophomore). The Patriots have won six district championships in the last 10 years and finished state runner-up twice in school history (2011 and 2019).
Beloit West Branch (AP #7), a former state champion, returns to the Final Four for the first time since 2015. It is their fourth overall appearance in Columbus, which includes a state championship in 2004. The Lady Warriors, with a +21 point per game differential, are led by 5’10” senior Peyton Alazaus, who pours in 13.6 points per game, while 5’10” senior Hannah Ridgway also averages double figures as she scores 10.4 ppg. Point guard Carly Scarpitti dishes out over four assists per game for the Warriors. They have some good size with four starters 5’10” or taller.
Dresden Tri-Valley (AP #8), the co-champions of the Muskingum Valley League, will be making its fifth trip to the state Final Four in the school’s long history and its first since 2005 when they finished as runner-up. One of the most decorated freshmen in Ohio will make her debut at the state tournament, as 5’9” Lexi Howe leads the Scotties in scoring at 11.6 points per game. All five starters are very balanced, with three key seniors including Kyndal Howe (5’10” G/P), Audrey Spiker (5’8” G) and Lauren King (5’6” G).
One of only two unbeaten teams heading to Columbus will be Napoleon (AP #3) from the Northern Lakes League. A team that loves to shoot the three, the Wildcats shoot 36% from beyond the arc and have four players who shoot above 40% from that range. Key weapons for Napoleon include 5’5” senior Shae Pedroza, who averages 9.7 points per game, while a pair of juniors – Caely Ressler (5’11”, 10.7 ppg) and Taylor Strock (5’8”, 12.5 ppg.) make this team very solid on the offensive end. They average just over 58 points per game and allow only 28.
Division III
Sports fans call NHL superstar Alex Ovechkin the “Great 8” but for Columbus Africentric Early College (AP #2) they are also going after their great number eight. The seven-time state champion, including the last two years, is aiming to bring home the gold yet again. The nine-time regional champion has four starters averaging in double figures, led by Rutgers-signee 6’4” senior Sakima Walker, at 14 ppg. She gets plenty of help as 5’9” senior Alexia Smith scores 13 ppg, and a pair of junior, Maliyah Johnson (6-foot forward) and Arianna Smith (6’1” forward), both contribute 10 points per game. The Nubians average 79 points per game with their up-tempo style of play, while William McKinney’s squad only allows 29 per game.
Longtime basketball fans will remember the run that the Anna Rockets had several years ago. They won the 2011 and 2013 state championships and in between lost a heartbreaker to Africentric in 2012 which would have given them a rare three-peat in Columbus. Making their sixth overall trip to the Final Four, the Rockets will rely on an aggressive defense that only allows 32 points per game. They have experienced guard play that hopes to help them be successful this weekend. Led by 5’6” junior Ella Doseck at 11.5 points and a team leading 4.1 assists per game, she will get help from 6’2” senior post Lauren Barhorst also at 11.5 points, along with 5’11” senior Kiplyn Rowland, scoring nearly seven per game. The Rockets finished second in the Shelby County League, behind only Fort Loramie who is also in Columbus this week in Division IV.
No stranger to Columbus in March is head coach Dave Schlabach and the Hiland Hawks (AP #1). They have won an unfathomable 25-consecutive Inter-Valley Conference championships and have made 17 trips to the state Final Four. The Hawks have won five state titles along the way, with their last one in 2017. The high-scoring Hiland squad is led by Bowling Green recruit Zoe Miller, a 6’1” junior averaging 14.4 points and over eight rebounds per game. Two other Hawks are in double figures with 5’8” junior Brynn Mullet (11.5 ppg.) and 5’8” junior Morgan Yoder (10.9ppg.).
Elyria Catholic (AP #4) was at the Final Four two years ago and will make its third overall trip to Columbus in their school history. The Panthers have won five consecutive league championships and come into the Final Four with only one loss on the season. They are a senior-loaded team with four in the starting lineup, led by 6’1” forward Ally Winnen, who averaged a double-double this season (17.7 points, 12.1 rebounds). Senior Abby Winnen is a 6’1” senior scoring 7.2 points.
Division IV
The Minster Wildcats (AP #8) are back for another shot. The back-to-back state champions survived a challenging Elida Regional, which included head coach Mike Wiss’ 100 career victory, to make their way back to Columbus for chance at a third consecutive state title. Their strength is their leadership and team defense. The Wildcats have won four overall state championships and are led by MAC Player of the Year Ivy Wolf (20.2 points, 4.1 assists), who was also a first-team all-Northwest District player. The 5’9” junior point guard will team up in the backcourt with 5’7” junior Janae Hoying (12.5 points, 3.6 assists), who was also all-district. Senior Averi Wolf, a 5’10” guard also is a big factor with consistent numbers. The Wildcats young post players have grown throughout the season and are led by 5’10” senior Lauren Mox and an improved sophomore Ella Mescher.
Beverly Fort Frye makes only its second state Final Four appearance in school history but has enjoyed consistent success at both the league level with six Ohio Valley Athletic Conference championships along with 11 straight sectional titles. The Cadets have solid team speed, defense and shooters. Hannah Archer, a 5’8” sophomore, leads the way for Fort Frye with a 14.9 points per game average and is joined in double figures by 5’5” junior Lexie Huck with 10.9 ppg. Kiersten Kesselring is the lone senior in the starting lineup as the young squad looks to make history for the Cadets.
After rolling through a regular season that saw them only allow just over 20 points per game, the Fort Loramie Redskins (AP #1) have won 26 district championships, while setting school records with 97 points in a game and 140 made three-point shots. The Redskins are unbeaten on the season and are likely the deepest team in the state tournament regardless of division with a consistent rotation of talented players. They are led by 6-foot junior Dana Rose, the Shelby County League Player of the Year and a first-team all-district player (11.0 points per game). Senior Marissa Meiring is a key senior leader at 9.9 points while an athletic 6-0 junior Kenzi Hoelscher (9.2 points) adds length and a strong inside/outside game. Coming off the bench is a player to watch in sophomore Ava Sholtis (10.7 points), who joins Meiring as a second-team all-district player.
Cornerstone Christian Academy has four returning starters from last year’s state Final Four team. They have won 20+ games with a very tough schedule and will be heading to Columbus for the third time in five years. Four players are in double figures for the Patriots, including 5’11” senior Madison Cloonan who averages 13.7 points per game. 6-foot senior Kailey Tyna also averages over 13 with 5’11” junior Riley Stopp sitting at 11.5 ppg. and 5’9” senior Michaela Cloonan who averages 10.9 points and a team-high 6.7 assists per game.