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Published: Friday, 11/16/2007

SLL: Genoa looks to repeat Elmwood, Gibsonburg are biggest challengers

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Genoa's strong starting lineup makes it the favorite in the SLL with, from left, Courtney
Mowery, Ashley Robertson, Brittany Darling, Simone Eli and Chelsea Nissen. Genoa's strong starting lineup makes it the favorite in the SLL with, from left, Courtney Mowery, Ashley Robertson, Brittany Darling, Simone Eli and Chelsea Nissen.
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Genoa had not won a Suburban Lakes League girls basketball title in 12 years before earning a share of the championship last season and the Comets are looking to continue their title ways with a repeat.

Genoa and Eastwood finished tied for first place with 12-2 league records last year.

Senior Brittany Darling, a 6-3 post player, led the SLL in scoring (19.7 points per game) and rebounding (10.8). She was named to the Division III all-district first team.

Junior Simone Eli (12.1 points) and senior Ashley Robertson (10.7 points and 8.7 rebounds) finished sixth and seventh in SLL scoring.

The Comets were picked in a preseason coaches' poll to finish first, followed by Elmwood, Gibsonburg and Eastwood.

"Any time your peers in the league think that highly of your team, it's a great honor," Genoa coach Tom Kontak said. "And with that comes great responsibility. But regardless of the voting, our goal is to be contending for the title."

More than half of the teams have new coaches - Eastwood, Elmwood, Lake, Lakota and Otsego - but Kontak said he expects the league to be as strong as ever.

"There's no question every night it will be a super-competitive ball game," Kontak said. "You better come with your 'A' game every night."

The top two scorers in the league are back - Genoa's Darling and Elmwood senior guard Brooke Morgart was second (19.8).

"Genoa and Eastwood will both be very good teams," Elmwood first-year coach Joe Kirkendall said. "But we expect to compete for an SLL title."

Gibsonburg has four returning letterwinners with extensive experience, while Eastwood again possesses good speed.

"Genoa, Elmwood and Gibsonburg will be the teams to beat," said Woodmore coach Fran Miller. "They have the total package."

The Comets won their first SLL crown since 1992 and then made it to district final before bowing out at 19-4.

"We're looking to build and continue the momentum," Kontak said. "Our No. 1 objective is to represent our school and make our community proud. The goal is to defend our SLL championship and to make a very deep tournament run. The ability and experience is there for this group."

Here's a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:

GENOA

Coach: Tom Kontak, fourth season

Last season: 19-4 overall, 12-2 SLL

Top players: Seniors Brittany Darling, 6-3, P; Ashley Robertson, 5-10, P; Chelsea Nissen, 5-9, G/P. Juniors Simone Eli 5-9, G; Courtney Mowery 5-9, G/P.

Outlook: With three talented starters back, Kontak has a strong nucleus in place to garner back-to-back titles.

Darling dominated inside (19.7 points and 10.8 rebounds) with plenty of help from Robertson (10.7 points and 8.7 rebounds). Eli poured in 12.1 points and dished out 2.7 assists per contest. Darling earned All-SLL first team for the third straight season.

"The overall strength of this year's team is our size in addition to an above average inside-outside presence," Kontak said.

But Kontak lost 74 percent of his assists with the graduation of daughter, Abbey. He also said his staff needs to improve upon coaching defense.

Darling, Robertson and Nissen will serve as tri-captains.

"To reach our goals, the experienced players will need to provide great leadership and be super role models for our younger players," Kontak said. "We all look forward to the opportunity to represent our school at a level our fans are proud to watch. This team will reach its' goals with communication, team play, and an inner pride second to none."

ELMWOOD

Coach: Joe Kirkendall, first season

Last season: 12-8, 10-4

Top players: Seniors Brooke Morgart, 5-5, G; Liz Wagner, 5-6, G; Chelsea Barnhisel 5-8, P; Elizabeth Barnhisel, 5-9, G.

Outlook: Morgart, who scored 395 points last season, is just 58 points away from 1,000 in her career.

Kirkendall inherits a team that finished third last season and has six seniors, six letterwinners and three starters back.

"We'll be very athletic, run well and should be able to defend," Kirkendall said. "Our guard play must be a point of strength."

A lack of depth and size are the most glaring weakness, he said. Keys will be the team's ability to adjust to a coaching change and to continually improve.

"We need to find ways to keep teams from hurting us inside," Kirkendall said.

GIBSONBURG

Coach: Mark Sworden, fourth season

Last season: 7-14, 6-8

Top players: Senior Lindsay Hill, 5-5, G. Juniors Katie Jones, 5-10, G/F; Emily Clark, 6-0, F.

Outlook: Sworden, who returns three seniors, said he also has a lot of experience back with players that have at least two years of varsity action under their belts.

"We have decent size," Sworden said. "We will probably start a front line of three players who are 5-10 or taller."

Jones averaged 8.1 points and 6.6 rebounds en route to ALL-SLL second-team honors. Clark (6.5 points) had nearly two blocks per game. Hill is the team's top returning scorer (8.6 points.).

Sworden said his team needs to be more consistent at both ends of the court.

"With four returning letterwinners, who all have extensive varsity experience, we hope to compete for the SLL championship," he said.

EASTWOOD

Coach: Hans Glandorff, first season

Last season: 15-5, 12-2

Top players: Senior Lisa Griffith, 5-4, G. Juniors Brooke Gottfried, 5-6, G; Jessica Thorton, 5-8, F; Brooke Albright, 5-6, G.

Outlook: With 10 varsity players but only one returning starter, the Eagles are young.

Glandorff, who takes over for veteran coach Jim Gracyk, lost 25 percent of his offensive production to graduation.

"It's a huge void to fill, but that's fine," he said. "We will work hard and count on our speed to make up for our inexperience."

Glandorff cites presence in the post as a potential weakness and quickness as a plus.

WOODMORE

Coach: Fran Miller, fourth year

Last season: 6-14, 4-10

Top players: Senior Kristen Jacobs, 5-8, F. Juniors Megan Bitter, 5-7, G; Kaylee Paul, 5-7, G/F; Tatijana Jacobson, 5-9, C; Alexis Marquette, 5-7 W.

Outlook: Miller has just one returning starter among three seniors and nine on the varsity.

Jacobs is the top returning scorer (6.0 points) and averages 5.0 rebounds.

"Kristen has plenty of experience and all of my juniors played a lot as sophomores, so they got a lot of minutes," Miller said.

The two other seniors both had season-ending knee surgeries last year.

"I have a whole team of role players," Miller said. "I don't have one standout. It's hard to say who will step up and when."

Although her lineup will not be tall, it will feature plenty of speed.

"We will be small and quick," Miller said. "But at the other end we need to rebound and that may be a disadvantage. We hope that we can have a .500 season."

LAKOTA

Coach: Mike Jones, first season

Last season: 8-13, 7-7

Top players: Seniors Cara Lentz, 5-5, G; Katy Garber, 5-7, G/F; Cami Wasserman, 5-8, G; junior Alisha Bickford, 5-3, G; sophomore Rachel Hoffman, 5-8, F.

Outlook: "This definitely will be a rebuilding year," said Jones.

Jones lost six players that accounted for 77.4 percent of the Raiders' points last season. Lentz is the only returning starter.

"We have a few girls that can handle the ball," Jones said.

A lack of size and a point guard are the most pressing issues.

"Our top seven players will be inexperienced," Jones said. "Any success that we have will depend upon how fast we can come together and execute our new system. We will need leadership from our seniors and quick development from everyone."

OTSEGO

Coach: Scott Bernthisel, first season

Last season: 8-14, 5-9

Top players: Seniors Hannah Perez, 5-6, G; Katie Shutzberg, 5-9, P. Junior Kara Dickey, 5-7, W. Sophomore Baley Bernthisel, 5-9, P.

Outlook: "This team will need to be able to play quick and smart to be successful," Bernthisel said.

He also said he likes his team and the players' knowledge of the game.

As a freshman, Baley Bernthisel finished fifth in the league in rebounding (9.0 per game) and averaged 9 points.

Dickey averaged 8 points, while Perez chipped in with 6. Shutzberg grabbed an average of 6 rebounds.

"We're optimistic, but realistic," Bernthisel said. "We lost our leading scorer. I'm a first-year coach. But I'm familiar with them. They work hard and we should be competitive."

LAKE

Coach: Dick Fox, first season

Last season: 2-19, 0-14

Top players: Seniors Christy Henneman, 5-4, G; Dori Hirzel, 5-9, F; Amanda Cutcher, 5-9, F. Juniors Lauren Lind, 5-9, C; Heather Cox, 5-9, G; Kately Baumbach, 5-5, G.

Outlook: Fox, who spent 10 years at Bowling Green, takes over a team that has seven returning letterwinners and three seasoned seniors.

Henneman pulled down 9.1 rebounds per game, which was third-best in the SLL, and Lind averaged 5.1 boards.

"Experience is our biggest strength," Fox said. "We will need to find someone who is a consistent scorer to be successful."

Fox hopes to teach the Flyers how to win.

"With only two wins last year, we need to build confidence in our skills and be able to play better when the game is on the line," Fox said.

Contact Mark Monroe at:

monroe@theblade.com

or 419-724-6354.



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