From left: Rossford basketball players Margo Jackson, Alaina Mitchell, Julie Hotz and Courtney Morris.
THE BLADE/LORI KING
With four of five starters back in the fold, the Rossford Bulldogs have the experience to challenge Lake’s recent league supremacy.
Rossford has been pegged as the preseason favorite to win the Northern Buckeye Conference and end the four-year reign of the Flyers. Lake won three straight Suburban Lakes League titles before capturing the first NBC crown last season.
Rossford will be led by returning senior post player Alaina Mitchell, along with junior returning starters wing Julie Hotz, wing Courtney Morris, and guard Margo Jackson.
Coach Kevin Mitchell led the Bulldogs to a second-place finish (10-4), one game behind Lake.
“With four returning starters and seven letter winners from a team that finished second in the NBC last year, we expect to be in the hunt for a league title this season,” Mitchell said.
Alaina Mitchell and Hotz both earned All-NBC first team honors. Mitchell, the coach’s daughter, averaged 10.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Hotz tallied 12.0 points and grabbed 5.0 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, Lake lost NBC player of the year Hannah Cox to graduation along with coach Denny Meyer, who resigned last March after leading the Flyers to four titles and an 81-10 overall record.
Another longtime and successful coach takes over at Lake. Jim Gracyk, who coached the Eastwood girls for 17 years (1990-2007) and compiled a 300-97 record, is now in charge of the Flyers program. Gracyk’s teams won 10 SLL titles. He was an assistant at Northview the last two seasons.
Gracyk inherits three returning starters, senior wing Alyssa Shaffer, sophomore guard Jordyn Taylor, and junior wing Sumer Woodruff. The Flyers are expected to contend again.
“We expect to compete for a league title and get out of districts in the tournament,” Gracyk said.
Woodmore and Elmwood also look to challenge for the NBC title.
Woodmore coach Kyle Clair said: “We want to continue our upward movement in the conference and be one of those teams that every year is in the mix for the league title.”
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish based on a preseason coaches’ poll:
Coach: Kevin Mitchell, fourth season
Last season: 13-9 overall, 10-4 NBC
Top players: Seniors Alaina Mitchell 5-11, P; Jenny Destate, 5-4 G; Liz Parisi, 5-7, G; Hannah Marcinek, 5-7, W. Juniors Julie Hotz, 5-9, W; Courtney Morris, 5-7, W; Margo Jackson, 5-5, G.
Outlook: Mitchell has compiled a 30-37 record at Lake and is 270-147 overall in his coaching career.
Alaina Mitchell and Hotz bring experience with them along with Morris (6.0 points per game and 4.0 rebounds per game) and Jackson (3.0 points and 3.0 rebounds per contest).
Coach Mitchell said he also likes his team’s depth with Destate, Parisi, and Marcinek and its quickness.
But he said potential trouble areas include consistency in rebounding and foul shooting as well as a lack of overall size.
“We need to get off to a good start to build confidence,” Mitchell said. “How we play on the road will determine how successful we will be this season.”
Coach: Jim Gracyk, first season
Last season: 16-6, 11-3
Top players: Senior Alyssa Shaffer, 5-9, W. Juniors Sumer Woodruff, 5-8, W; Ana Henneman, 6-0, P; Sara Dabney, 5-10, P. Sophomores Jordyn Taylor, 5-6, G; Catie Phalen, 5-5, G. Alexis Hansen, 5-7, G.
Outlook: Gracyk takes over a Flyer team with three starters and four letter winners coming back.
Shaffer averaged 6.8 points per game, while Taylor posted 8.0 points per game. Woodruff (4.5 ppg) and Phalen also saw varsity action.
Gracyk said the program’s recent history of winning gives the players confidence. He said he has depth at all positions and he likes his team’s blue collar work ethic.
Ability to rebound and adjusting to a new up-tempo style of play may prove to be stumbling blocks. He also said he has had some early injuries to overcome.
Coach: Kyle Clair, fifth season
Last season: 12-10, 9-5
Top players: Seniors Katy Avers, 5-10, P; Shannon O’Connor, 5-6, G; Leah Bench, 5-6, G. Junior Allie Wank, 5-10, F/P. Sophomore Mackenzie Johnson, 5-10, P.
Outlook: Clair has compiled a career record of 46-40 at Woodmore.
This season he has two starters and five letter winners back.
Wank was among the NBC rebounding leaders (5.6 rpg) and scored 5.9 points per contest.
Avers chipped in with 2.7 ppg and 4.2 rpg, while Johnson contributed 3.3 ppg and 2.5 rpg.
“We will utilize a system that will include full-court pressure on defense with the hopes that will ignite our offense,” Clair said. “We will play up and down the court with pressure defensively and offensively.”
He also said his team must develop some scoring. Clair said he hopes the Wildcats will be able to offset some of that by getting some easy points with their defense.
“I like the way we look on paper, so now we have to improve every day,” Clair said.
Coach: Doug Reynolds, second season
Last season: 13-9, 8-6
Top players: Seniors Brittany Gross, 5-9, G; Brittany George, 5-7, G; Tori Hillard, 5-10, P; Emily Smith, 5-8, P. Juniors Kristen Curtis, 5-8, W; Tiffany Hillard, 5-7, W; Marissa Swavel, 5-7, PG.
Outlook: Reynolds coached the Royals’ boys varsity team for an eight-year stretch until 2008. He took over the girls program that was 6-16 and 2-12 in 2010-11.
Reynolds lost the league’s leading scorer (Sierra Beckford) but Gross averaged 8.4 points per game along with 5.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists. George contributed 6.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists.
Curtis (6.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Hillard (3.8 ppg and 3.6 rpg), and Swavel (3.5 ppg) all saw significant playing time.
Reynolds said he has good depth and team speed with four returning letter winners. “Every night someone else could be the top scorer. We want to push the ball and play aggressively full court,” he said.
Beckford, who is playing at Bluffton, leaves a huge scoring void (16.0 ppg). “We also have to improve defensively,” he said.
Coach: Scott Bernthisel, sixth season
Last season: 12-10, 9-5
Top players: Seniors Morgan McCullough, 5-5, G; Jessica Roberts, 6-0, P. Junior Lindsey Donald, 5-7, G. Sophomore Maddie Asmus, 5-6, PG. Freshmen Kim Forshey, 5-11, P; Morgan Smoyer, 5-10, P.
Outlook: Bernthisel said his team’s strengths should include its overall height as well as its knowledge and excitement for the game.
He said his team is young with only two starters and six letter winners back. He said the Knights will need to find ways to score.
McCullough is the top returning scorer (7.0 ppg), while Roberts added 5.8 points and grabbed 4.0 rebounds.
Donald and Asmus played the majority of minutes on Otsego's 20-0 junior varsity team. Forshey and Smoyer should see considerable time as a freshmen. Seniors Karley Schutzberg and Courtney Garrett will be relied on to fill important roles again.
Coach: Mike DeStazio, third season
Last season: 9-13, 5-9
Top players: Seniors Haley Plantz, 5-8, W; Chelsea Lavelle, 5-6, W; Selina Peer, 5-6, G. Juniors Ciara Albright, 5-7, G; Katie Jensen, 5-8, W; Brynn Skilliter, 5-8, P. Freshman Haley Pickard, 5-6, G.
Outlook: DeStazio must replace three starters that combined for an average of 28 points per game. His Comets also do not possess great size so they must be aggressive on the boards.
He said team chemistry is good. He also said the team’s perimeter shooting should be solid.
“We are capable of shooting a lot of three-balls with Albright, Plantz, Lavelle and Jensen,” he said. “We also have versatility in playing different positions.”
Albright ranked second in the NBC in scoring (12.5 ppg) and also grabbed 5.0 rebounds per game to go along with 60 assists total and 74 steals. She earned first team All-NBC honors.
Plantz averaged 7.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, and had 39 assists and 16 steals. Plantz also nailed 42 3-pointers.
Jensen had 3.5 rebounds per game, while Peer and Skilliter saw action as well.
“If we continue to improve as much as we have since the summer, we could be a very good team by Christmas,” said DeStazio, who has a 30-16 record at Genoa. “We have implemented some new things defensively, and we are hoping this will help create more offense for us.”
Coach: Gary Lemle, second season
Last season: 7-14, 4-10
Top players: Seniors Diana Bushman, 5-9, G; Pressley Weaver 5-9, F; Emily Helm, 5-4, PG; Alena Gabel, 5-9, G; Kelsey Weaver, 5-9, F; Stephanie Dippman, 5-6, F.
Outlook: Lemle coached at Cardinal Stritch where he had 96 career wins before taking over the Eagles program last year.
He has three returning starters and six letter winners.
Bushman averaged 5.5 points per game, while Weaver chipped in with 4.5 and Gabel with 3.0. Helm and Gabel are co-captains.
Lemle sees his team’s ability to run the floor in transition and score as strengths. He also said the Cardinals should have effective high-low post scoring.
He said his team must improve defensively and become better rebounders.
“I expect the team to build upon the improvement from last year,” Lemle said.
Coach: Mathew Swortchek, sixth season
Last season: 0-21, 0-14
Top players: Juniors Kierra Settles 5-7, F; Eliza Sanchez, 5-5, G. Sophomores Jada Hampton, 5-8, G/F; Erica Moore, 5-6, G. Freshman Alexus Smith 5-7, F.
Outlook: Swortchek said his team’s youth is both a strength and potential weakness.
He said he likes his team’s speed and quickness. But he said a lack of size is a concern.
Among five letter winners are four returning starters.
Settles (5.4 ppg), Hampton (5.5), and Moore (6.2) all contributed offensively. Sanchez, Smith, and Tucker also saw varsity action.
“We are trying to turn a corner this year and begin to build back into a competitive basketball team,” Swortchek said. “With no seniors we are lacking veteran leadership. However, the core group of juniors and sophomores have been working hard to take big steps to turn around our record from last year and we are seeing positive signs.”