Liberty Center has plenty of depth and hopes to contend for the Northwest Ohio Athletic League title with, from left, Katie Lillevik, Kaitlin Rohrs and Kelsey Bare.
Northwest Ohio Athletic League girls basketball coaches picked Wauseon as the favorite to win the league title. And that surprised Indians coach Brad Myers.
But Myers wasn't at all surprised that Wauseon was a very narrow choice in a spirited vote that saw Archbold and Patrick Henry also receive first-place votes, and both Liberty Center and Bryan rank among the favorites.
"I definitely agree that this season the race is wide-open," Myers said. "Usually there's one team that stands out from the others, but this season that isn't necessarily the case.
"There are a lot of teams that have a good nucleus back, and there's not one team that stands head-and-shoulders above the rest."
The Indians garnered a lot of first-place votes thanks to the return of second-team all-league pick Taylor Creager as well as three other letterwinners.
"But Archbold also has a good nucleus with experience back and always is competitive," Myers said. "Patrick Henry has a lot of good players back. Liberty Center finished strong with a good tournament run, and year-in and year-out Bryan seems to be right there [near the top] at the end of the season."
Myers said his team, and the others around the league, will face the same obstacle to winning the NWOAL.
"I think the teams that find their fourth, fifth and sixth players the quickest will be the teams that have the most success," he said. "Depth is a key question around the league."
Here's a look at the teams in predicted order of finish.
Coach: Brad Myers, 18th season
Last season: 11-11, 6-2 NWOAL
Top players: Senior Krista Roe, 5-9, P. Juniors Taylor Creager, 5-5, G-W; Sabrina Kessler, 5-8 P.
Outlook: Graduation took away three players who earned a combined nine varsity letters for the Indians, including all-league performer Shelly Cain. But second-team All-NWOAL guard Taylor Creager is back after averaging 9.6 points, while post players Sabrina Kessler and Krista Roe combined for an average of 11.9 rebounds per contest.
Yes, Roe is the only senior. But four juniors and a strong sophomore class that posted a 19-1 record at the junior varsity level last season should provide depth.
"We do need to develop some depth with our younger players, but we have a good nucleus of returnees combined with some talented girls off the JVs," Myers said. "We need to be more consistent offensively, as well as improve our rebounding."
Coach: Kevin Miller, ninth season
Last season: 11-11, 4-4
Top players: Seniors Kenzie Frank, 5-4, G; Dani Newman, 5-8, F; Adrianne Lange, 5-6, F; Laura Wyse, 5-4, G; Bri Wyse, 5-3, G.
Outlook: The Blue Streaks lost a pair of all-league performers to graduation in Lex Kennedy and Leah Lehman, but nine letterwinners return. That group is led by senior forwards Adi Lange and Dani Newman, who combined to average better than 16 points and 13 rebounds per game.
One of Archbold's strengths is its depth, as the Blue Streaks feature six seniors who provide both experience and leadership. The biggest concern will be replacing the points lost by the graduation of Lehman and
"A lot of our success will be determined by how hard and how well we play defensively," Miller said. "We need to use our speed, aggressiveness and depth to pressure teams and make things happen.
Coach: Todd Burdue, third season
Last season: 18-6, 5-3)
Top players: Seniors Kelsey Bare, 5-7, F; Katie Lillevik, 5-8, F. Juniors Emily Bodenbender, 5-5, G; Chelsea Meister, 5-6, G; Kaitlin Rohrs, 6-1, C.
Outlook: Few area teams can match the depth of the Tigers, as all 13 girls on the varsity roster have varsity experience. And that experience includes a trip to the Division IV regional last season, as well as a strong push for the league title.
All-league pick Kaitlin Rohrs averaged 13.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, and coach Burdue said the team's speed is good enough to run a stifling full-court press.
But the team's top three scorers behind Rohrs all have graduated, which means other players will have to pick up the scoring slack behind Rohrs.
"We need to be consistent on offense, and we're looking for more scorers," Burdue said. "But we're looking to build on last season's success."
Coach: Paul Phillips, first season
Last season: 6-13, 4-4
Top players: Seniors Jericha Benavides, 5-8, P; Autumn Goebel, 5-9, P. Juniors Saige Meyer, 5-7, P; Michelle Nickels, 5-5, G; Samantha Seemann, 5-5, G. Sophomore Tiffany Ehlers, 5-1, G.
Outlook: The Patriots return all five starters and seven letterwinners from last season. But they, too, suffered a loss when longtime coach Rick Schwiebert died recently.
Paul Phillips, an assistant to Schwiebert, moves up as PH
attempts to keep continuity in the program.
Samantha Seemann, a second-team all-league pick, was the team's top scorer last season, averaging 9.2 points per game. But Patrick Henry has five players back who averaged at least 6.5 points per contest.
"What we are looking for is confidence," Phillips said. "After a 6-13 season, we need to have some success. But we hope to improve on last year and be competitive in the league."
Coach: Todd Grosjean, seventh season
Last season: 11-10, 6-2
Top players: Seniors Morgan DeNoi, 5-6, G; Brooke Haines, 6-0, P. Juniors Brigitte Kuszmaul, 5-6, G; Brittany Staup, 5-7, F; Leslie Stratton, 5-4, G.
Outlook: The Golden Bears lost four starters from last year's league runners-up, including all-league performers Jessie Fee and Brittany Shirkey.
But Bryan hopes to reload rather than rebuild thanks to six returning letterwinners. The key members of that group include all-league post player Brooke Haines, who averaged 8.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, and Morgan DeNoi, a three-year letterwinner.
Areas of concern include finding a consistent scorer as well as rebounding, with the 6-0 Haines the only player on the roster taller than 5-9.
"We should be fairly deep this season and more athletic than in years past," Grosjean said. "We do have a number of new faces to the varsity, including four sophomores that we will be counting on heavily."
Coach: Frank Onweller, sixth season
Last season: 20-3, 7-1
Top players: Senior Kristen Smith, 5-6, F. Juniors Paige Onweller, 5-6, G; Ashlee Polkinghorn, 5-7, F.
Outlook: The defending league champion lost four starters to graduation, including first team all-league picks Abby LaVigne and Tiffany Willson. With only three letterwinners back and just three seniors on the roster, the Bulldogs will need several younger players to step forward.
Among the candidates are Paige Onweller, who averaged 7.8 points per game, and Ashlee Polkinghorn, who had 4.7 points and 2.9 rebounds per contest.
"Our players will need to improve and develop quickly to overcome our overall inexperience," coach Frank Onweller said. "We are excited about our overall team speed, and we hope that our intensity and effort will help overcome our lack of size."
Coach: John Langenderfer, fifth season
Last season: 11-10, 2-6
Top players: Senior Tasha Patek, 5-6, G. Juniors Taylor Langenderfer, 5-6, G; Andrea Steib, 5-6, F. Sophomore Blair Bohland, 5-10, C; Kenzie Pinkelman, 5-6, F.
Outlook: The Vikings should be strong at guard thanks to the return of Taylor Langenderfer, a two-time all-league pick who averaged 15.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, and Tasha Patek, who added 10.3 points per contest.
Only two players are taller than 5-foot-7, so rebounding and low-post defense are both concerns. Much of the load will fall to Andrea Steib, who averaged 6.7 rebounds per game, and Kenzie Pinkelman.
But with three starters and five letterwinners returning, the program also receives a jolt of experience.
"That's a level of experience we haven't had in a while," coach John Langenderfer said. "We're excited because we think we can compete in all our games and that's something we haven't been able to do the past few years."
Coach: Derek Friess, first season
Last season: 5-16, 1-7
Top players: Seniors Chris Bruno, 5-7, G; Lauren Friess, 5-7, F; Amanda Potter, 5-10, F; Kristen Smith, 5-6, G. Junior Kristin Kowalski, 5-8 F, Autum Shindorf, 5-4, G. Sophomore Haley Baum, 5-8, F.
Outlook: The Panthers welcome back four starters and six letterwinners from a year ago. Among the team's leaders are a trio of two-year letterwinners in seniors Lauren Friess and Kristen Smith as well as junior Kristin Kowalski.
But while those players have game experience, they lack the experience - and confidence - a team gains from winning.
"Our biggest hurdle is learning how to win," new coach Derek Friess said. "We need to know that we can win every game that we play, and then we'll find a way [to win].
"I think that we can win several games, and if we pull off a few big wins we could be very successful."
Coach: Dawn Smith, first season
Last season: 4-17, 1-8
Top players: Seniors Morghan Clark, 5-8, P-F; Brooke Gearig, 5-8, G-F; Brooke Watts, 5-5, G. Juniors Tab Davis, 5-7, F; Heather DeLong, 5-8, P; Brooke Willibey, 5-3, G.
Outlook: The coach may be in her first year, but many of the players will be familiar as the Locomotives welcome back eight letterwinners, including three starters.
And the key for Montpelier may be a junior class that has nine players on the varsity, four lettering a year ago. Smith also said she expects her team's quickness and defense to be strengths.
"The past few years have been rough, but with the return of eight letterwinners we have a positive outlook," Smith said. "The girls are hard workers, so hopefully we will turn some things around this year."
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