A new season is upon us, and a new excitement is here! Last season seen the end of the Twinsburg dominance, a continued Hathaway Brown dominance, the making of an annual dynasty, and an emergence of a recent Columbus newcomer Fort Loramie.
Fort Loramie won their first state title in school history, after making three recent trips to Columbus empty handed. They had to go through a D4 state final mainstay, Berlin Hiland. I fully expect a rematch in march between these two teams, though their paths will be a bit different. Believe it or not the Lady Hawks have lessoned their regular season load, with big games against Twinsburg, West Holmes, Wooster, Kettering Alter, Tri-Valley and Carrollton. That would sound like a terrible nonconference schedule for any D4 team, but not Hiland.
Although Loramie’s regular season isn’t a cakewalk it certainly isn’t the grueling gauntlet the Hawks have lined up. Hiland’s tourney run will have to again go through Lake Ridge and Zanesville Rosecrans, but I don’t expect that to be too tall of an order. The west is always the strength of the state in D4 and this year will be no exception.
With all things considered, and the complete dismantling of Twinsburg by Hiland to start the season, I believe Hiland will end their championship drought and add another banner in the Perry Reese Center.
Division 3 will see some good basketball this year in the area. Orrville was the power team last year and earned a trip to Columbus, but they are losing almost all of their offense. Though there may be some revenge beatings in the new Red Rider gym, expect Orrville to compete.
Smithville and Canton Central Catholic will certainly be in the conversation and make post season noise, but like Orrville they both lost star players that will be impossible to replace.
Chippewa will be the team to beat in the area in D3. They already got off to a convincing win against Central behind two of the best sophomores in the state, Koncz and Richardson. I expect Chippewa, under the leadership of legendary coach Denny Schrock to make a push for Columbus representing Wayne County and the WCAL. However there’s one little problem, Manchester dropped back down to D3. Manchester is very good team who could easily end up in Columbus. One thing is for sure, the Wayne/Stark County areas will be blessed with a great February at Triway High School.
With all that in mind, this division will be dominated by the star studded Columbus Africentric team, who in all likelihood not be challenged.
With all due respect to Hathaway Brown, who won an unprecedented 5th straight state title last year (boys or girls), there will be a crowning of a new champion this year. Hathaway Brown graduated a truckload of college D1 prospects, which is impossible to replace, even for them. In addition they are coming from a loaded part of Ohio. West Branch and Canfield look to continue their district success and finally get over the hump with Hathaway having a down year. The Northeast Ohio are will see these teams battle it out with St. V and Revere, but I see St. V making a trip to Columbus.
The main players in the state are Toledo Rogers, Clyde, Akron SVSM and of course West Holmes, runners up the last two years. Rogers has an abundance of athletes and will not be happy with anything besides a state title. I think West Holmes plays more as a team and relies on depth, discipline and defense to win. Though it will be a loaded division I see Holmes County crowning their second champion, West Holmes.
D1 has got to be the most exciting ever! With so many big time athletes and teams around the state, its going to be a tough road to Columbus! I’m grateful that here in Canton we have arguably the best D1 conference in the state. Tradional power Canton McKinley took a big hit losing Xavier commit SG Turner. Likewise last years regional runner-up, North Canton Hoover got a huge boost by landing her. With Hoover already having very good post players, this addition makes them a complete team and favorites in the league and the district. Uniontown Lake will also cause some noise in the Federal League while returning 9 seniors led by West Liberty post Baylen Dyrlund. Reynoldsburg will continue their rule in the Columbus area with the help of D1 recruits Alyssa Rice and Nicole Orr.
The Cleveland area will also be lots of fun to watch. Solon, Berea-Midpark and Twinsburg will continue to battle each other, likely with a different result than the last 3 seasons. Solon was within a shot of knocking off Twinsburg last year. This year, behind Maryland recruit Kristen Confroy and Jordan Bekelja the Comets will break through. It won’t be easy though, they have to get through Berea-Midpark, who features Stasha Carey, who is heading to Pitt after the season. To be clear, Twinsburg should not be written off, they will contend and compete. The Tigers are loaded at guard with a pair of D1 recruits and a future recruit, but severely lack any inside production. Carey is the best post, Confroy is the best player; Solon is the best team and you will see them in Columbus.
The south will also bring lots of great basketball, unfortunately it not close enough for me to enjoy. Westbeld and Waterman will do their best to continue Kettering Fairmont’s streak of 4 straight state appearances, and a repeat title. A desperate Cincinnati Princeton will have a lot to say about it though. Kelsey Mitchell, possibly the best player in the country, has yet to see Columbus and you can bet she will do everything in her power to get there! Fairmont’s biggest question will be how they can compete without Chelsea Welch, who graduated and is playing for Pitt. People may be surprised at how important she was to that team and difficult to replace. I would have to give Fairmont the edge but it will definitely be a very tough region. Centerville, Mason and Winton Woods are also very good teams with a say in the outcome.
I believe the states will end with a successful trip to Columbus by Toledo Notre Dame. I’m expecting, and praying for a 3rd consecutive TND-Wadsworth Regional Final! Wadsworth will continue being a very good team but wont be able to compete with the Eagles this year. TND is a complete team. They have size, very athletic and mobile size at that. Experienced guards will greatly help them this year after replacing some great guards from the 11-12 season. A healthy Jada Worthy will fit nicely with Tierra Floyd and the traditional post Kayla McIntyre. They have good depth and lots of experience. Toledo Notre Dame is my pick to win the division 1 state finals, but I’ve never been so exited to see something play out!