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Published: Friday, 11/16/2007

TAAC: Stritch is slight favorite over Toledo Christian, Danbury

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Cardinal Stritch coach Gary Lemle has experienced players returning with, from left, Katie
Gullett, Nicole Lamb, Cierra Dempsey and Erin Mitchell. Cardinal Stritch coach Gary Lemle has experienced players returning with, from left, Katie Gullett, Nicole Lamb, Cierra Dempsey and Erin Mitchell.
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Change seems to be a buzz word surrounding the upcoming girls basketball season in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference.

At the same time, there's also plenty of talk about continuity.

The change comes from the large number of top players from last season who were lost to graduation. Of the six players named All-TAAC first team, only one - Northwood's Marissa Reighard - is back, as are just three of six second-teamers.

"This year definitely will be different, because there were a lot of good players around the league who graduated," Cardinal Stritch coach Gary Lemle said.

The continuity is in the eyes of coaches, who said that the league's top teams in recent seasons - the Cardinals along with Danbury, Ottawa Hills and Toledo Christian - will be the top contenders this year.

A preseason coaches' vote saw Cardinal Stritch get the nod as the favorite, with Toledo Christian and Danbury close behind. Defending champ Ottawa Hills was picked fourth.

"I think you have to give the nod, at least in the preseason, to Cardinal Stritch," Toledo Christian coach Scott Gibson said. "They were in the district final last year, and they have some numbers coming back."

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

CARDINAL STRITCH

Coach: Gary Lemle, fifth season

Last season: 13-7, 8-4

Top players: Seniors Cierra Dempsey, 5-3, G; Erin Mitchell, 5-7, F. Junior Katie Gullett, 5-8, F. Sophomore Nicole Lamb, 5-0, G.

Outlook: While the Cardinals lost two all-league performers in Katie Bochi and Brittney Bradner, they also return three starters. There are six returning letterwinners with at least two years varsity experience.

The top returning scorer is Dempsey, who made 30 percent of her 3-point shots and averaged 7.1 points per game, while her backcourt mate, Lamb, had a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio last season as a freshman playing point guard. Gullett (6.1 points, 6.0 rebounds) also returns.

"I feel we're very balanced, so that will make the job of the other team's defense tougher because they'll have to guard both the inside and the outside," Lemle said. "We could have at least four players average better than 10 points per game."

With only one player taller than 5-foot-8, play against taller teams and rebounding will be concerns.

TOLEDO CHRISTIAN

Coach: Scott Gibson, second season

Last season: 11-10, 8-4

Top players: Seniors Tami Duvall, 6-1, F; Shannon Longenecker, 5-9, G. Sophomore Kara Segler, 5-6, G.

Outlook: The Eagles also lost a pair of all-league performers in first-teamer Emily Cellier and second-teamer Joanna Beauch. But experience in the starting lineup shouldn't be a problem for TC, which returns four seniors with varsity experience.

Leading the way are Duvall, who led the team in rebounding a year ago at 8.2 per game, and Longenecker, who added nearly eight points and eight boards per game.

The big questions revolve around depth.

"We're very athletic, and our team speed will be the best it has been in years," Gibson said. "Since our team speed is better, it should make our defense better. We have a lot of size for a Division IV team, so we're optimistic about having a great season."

DANBURY

Coach: Ryan Beam, fifth season

Last season: 12-9, 7-5

Top players: Senior Stefini Kosa, 5-6, G. Sophomore Christine Longer, 5-8, G.

Outlook: The Lakers have big shoes to fill in replacing Megan Twarek, who averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds last season. But Danbury does return six letterwinners, led by Kosa and Longer.

Kosa averaged 12.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists, while Longer added 12.4 points and 5.7 rebounds.

"Replacing Megan will be tougher because she also was a team leader," Beam said. "But we do return six players with varsity experience, and our guard play should be a strength. And our chemistry is good. I'm excited to see what this team can accomplish this year."

OTTAWA HILLS

Coach: Sean Mercer, seventh season

Last season: 20-2, 12-0

Top players: Seniors Libby Overley, 5-6, G; Kirsten Swonger, 5-10, F/P. Sophomore Katherine Jamieson, 5-7, G.

Outlook: The Green Bears lost a pair of all-league performers when Megan Jamieson and Kelsey Netter both graduated - two of the six seniors on a title team.

"Those seniors were responsible for 85 percent of the team's scoring last season, but the toughest thing to replace may be their leadership," Mercer said.

Leading the way is sophomore Katherine Jamieson, who was named second-team All-TAAC after averaging 12.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

"[Last year's] chapter is over, and we are opening our newest, latest chapter," Mercer said. "Our sophomore and freshman classes are very deep and talented. We are very excited about our future."

NORTHWOOD

Coach: Geoff Milewski, second season

Last season: 6-15, 3-9

Top players: Seniors Michelle Klenke, 5-9, F; Marissa Reighard, 5-9, F. Juniors Emily Henzler, 5-3, G; Paige Wojcincki, 5-5, G. Sophomores Rema Abdelhoq, 5-1, G; Kirsten Wegman, 5-9, F.

Outlook: The Rangers have a pair of strong building blocks in Reighard, an all-league performer who averaged 13.0 points and 3.9 rebounds, and Klenke, who added 6.6 points and 3.4 rebounds.

But there isn't much experience around Reighard and Klenke, as five of this year's eight full-time varsity players have scored a combined seven points in just 10 varsity quarters.

"We do have a good inside/outside scorer with Marissa, and a good inside scorer to complement her with Michelle," Milewski said. "But our season will really depend upon the contributions that we get from the players other than Marissa and Michelle."

EMMANUEL CHRISTIAN

Coach: Jo Daniels, third season

Last season: 4-16, 0-12

Top players: Juniors Lacy Anagnostu, 5-5, G; Caitlyn Cramer, 5-8, F; Emily Loomis, 6-0, F. Sophomore Alison Baden, 5-6, G. Freshman Lexie Weaver, 5-5, G.

Outlook: The Warriors return a pair of starters in Loomis, who averaged 11 points and 7 rebounds and Anagnostu, who added eight points per game.

But depth and youth will be the two concerns Emmanuel Christian will need to overcome. As the season progresses, young players such as Baden and Weaver will be asked to play big roles in the team's success.

"We have a young team, but with improved defense we should be competitive," Daniels said. "If our young players such as Baden and Weaver develop quickly, we will be able to surprise a few teams."

MAUMEE VALLEY

Coach: Marty Kalmbach, first season

Last season: 9-12, 4-8

Top players: Seniors Izzy Durham, G; Hannah Spengler, F. Juniors Lindsey Blaszczyk, F; Nollie Brown, C; Addy Rothman, G; Neely Upamaka, G.

Outlook: While Kalmbach is new to the school, he's no stranger to local girls basketball after 24 seasons at Maumee. But his team still may be strangers to him and to one another. Because of the school's "Winterim" curriculum, the players were spread across the globe and have yet to practice together.

"Right now we have players in Greece, India, China, Germany and the Bahamas," Kalmbach said. "We won't start until Dec. 3, and then we'll play eight games in 19 days.

"Depth is a concern because of low numbers, but we seem to have balance. I think we'll have solid players at each position."

The Hawks return six letterwinners, but the losses include Alexis Holman, league player of the year.



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