In terms of personnel most responsible for its run to the Division I girls basketball state semifinals last March, not much remains on the varsity roster of defending Three Rivers Athletic Conference champion Notre Dame.
The Eagles, who were 22-5 overall and 14-0 TRAC last season, graduated four starters and their top sub from the best team in school history.
The lone returning starter is junior Jayda Worthy, and others who saw some varsity time include senior Christy Ohlinger and sophomores Kaayla McIntyre and Tierra Floyd.
But this returning group was enough to convince TRAC coaches to give Notre Dame the nod to repeat its conference title in 2012-13.
The Eagles received seven of the eight first-place votes and a total of 63 points in the TRAC’s preseason coaches’ poll. Central Catholic (49), Findlay (48), and Lima Senior (47) were in a close heat for the next three spots.
“Last year’s run was great,” Notre Dame coach Travis Galloway said. “It was a great way for those seniors to end their careers. Now we’re on to this year. I think the league is much more balanced this year than what it was last year. It will be much more competitive from top to bottom. There’s a lot of younger talent in the league, and some experience returning.
“Although we’ve lost a ton of talent, we still have back some players who were on that team last year and got some experience.”
Galloway’s current team might more closely resemble the Eagles of 2009-10, a sophomore-dominated group that competed well in placing third in a tough City League that included state runner-up Waite and fellow state power Start.
“Our kids are all trying to learn new roles,” Galloway said. “That’s our challenge early on. Is there some pressure on us being picked to win? Sure there is. But that’s a good thing.
“These girls will be trying to establish their own identity and get out of the shadow of last year’s team. Maybe being picked first will help with their confidence, and give them a jump-start knowing everyone’s gunning for them.”
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish.
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Coach: Travis Galloway, fifth season
Last season: 22-5 overall, 14-0 TRAC
Top players: Senior Christy Ohlinger, 5-11, F. Junior Jayda Worthy, 5-11, G. Sophomores Kaayla McIntyre, 6-1, F; Tierra Floyd, 6-0, G; Christiana Jefferson, 5-3, G.
Outlook: The Eagles graduated four-year varsity players Cat Wells and Demy Whitaker as well as three-year players Michelle Holmes, Tylar Young, and Ashley Kynard.
Worthy, the lone returning starter, begins the season rehabbing an injury. But six other letter winners return to help fill the graduation void. Galloway (64-25 record at ND) sees size and rebounding as strengths, and points to the lack of experience and the players’ adjustment to expanded roles as potential trouble areas early on.
“I believe this is a team that will continue to improve greatly as the season goes on,” Galloway said. “We have a number of talented players, but they are expected to increase their roles compared to last season. I believe that our overall depth and size will be great strengths for us as the season progresses. Hopefully we will be able to compete for another league title.”
Coach: Marty McGurk, third season
Last season: 13-9, 10-4
Top players: Seniors Jen Vliet, 5-6, G; Sydni Harmon, 5-11, F; Deonna Murdock, 5-9, F; Jazz Scott, 5-4, G. Junior Michelle Murnen, 5-9, G.
Outlook: The Irish return three starters with Vliet (5 points per game), Harmon (6 points, 5 rebounds), and Murdock (9 points, 7 rebounds) and should challenge for the TRAC title with a team that improved over the summer. Murnen added 6 points per game. The biggest loss to graduation was first-team All-TRAC and all-district guard Jamie Sobczak, who averaged 17.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists. McGurk is confident his team will play hard and improve as the season progresses, but is concerned about consistency and the pieces of the team puzzle fitting together to create court chemistry.
“We expect to be able to play with anybody on our schedule,” McGurk said, “and to continue to get better.”
Coach: Connie Lyon, 10th season
Last season: 11-11, 8-6
Top players: Seniors Christina McQueen, 6-3, F; Abby Smarkel, 5-11, F; Jacey Hardesty, 5-7, G. Juniors Nicole Muehl, 5-11, G; Taylor Stanfield, 6-0, F; Zoe Swisher, 5-6, G.
Outlook: The Trojans have the potential and the size to compete for the TRAC title. McQueen (12.3 points, 9.3 rebounds) is solid inside, and Muehl (10.5 points, 6.7 rebounds) gives team a proven 1-2 punch. Smarkel (5.2 points, 4.7 rebounds) and Swisher (4.1 points) provide complementary scoring.
Lyon (135-70 at Findlay) said she is counting on the overall size as an advantage, and sees “rebounding and defense” as keys to her team’s success. She also expects good scoring balance, and will rely heavily on the point guard play of Swisher as a catalyst.
Coach: Vince Halliday, sixth season
Last season: 13-8, 8-6
Top players: Senior Stacia Allen, 5-6, G. Junior Indiya Benjamin, 5-4, G. Sophomore Imara Haynes, 6-1, P. Freshmen Rion Thompson, 5-9, F; Essence Cowan, 5-6, W.
Outlook: The Spartans should get a boost from Allen (15 points), a transfer from Lima Central Catholic who had 798 career points with the Thunderbirds. She will be part of a solid inside-outside duo with McQueen (17.7 points, 3.5 rebounds), a first-team All-TRAC and second-team all-district selection last March. The rest of Lima Senior’s lineup will likely determine how high the team climbs in the conference standings from last season. Halliday will rely on some promising sophomores and freshmen to make that climb.
“We expect to have a successful season,” Halliday said. “This is an overall young but talented group. If we can take care of the glass we can contend for a league title.”
Coach: Sean Flemmings, first season
Last season: 11-10, 6-8
Top players: Senior Jordyn Blood, 5-8, W. Junior Keshyra McCarver, 5-10, P. Sophomores Samantha Meinen, 5-10, W; Abigail Sarabia, 5-9, F.
Outlook: Flemmings takes over for Rhett Boyd, and will rely on returning starters McCarver (9.1 points, 2.5 rebounds) and Meinen (8.2 points, 6 rebounds) to help ease the transition. The Panthers should see improved perimeter shooting, and Flemmings has seen strong defense effort in the preseason. But overall inexperience is a concern, and Whitmer must find a rebounding and scoring source to fill the graduation void of Allie Missler (7.6 rebounds, 10 points).
“The keys to this season are staying healthy and making a collaborative effort replace our graduated seniors,” Flemmings said. “It is a very competitive league, but I think that if our guards can handle pressure we can be competitive, and improve as the season goes on.”
Coach: Jim Strall, first season
Last season: 10-11, 6-8
Top players: Senior Shelby Linenkugal, 5-8, F. Juniors Margaret Rhode, 5-9, F; Alexia Franco, 5-5, G; Gabby Jordan, 5-8, F. Sophomores Megan Burns, 5-6, G; Ally Farrell, 5-5, G; Maurissa Leonard, 5-4, G.
Outlook: The Arrows return just one starter in Burns, and must find a way to fill the graduation void left by all-district guard Maddie Strall (19.5 points, 6-8 rebounds, 4.6 assists), and Emily Page (9.5 points, 5.5 rebounds).
As coach Strall takes over, inexperience is the first potential roadblock to a competitive TRAC run. A lack of size may cause rebounding problems. The new coach will count on team quickness and strong defensive effort to offset those potential deficiencies.
“We will be working to be competitive as a fast-paced team with a fast-paced game to help overcome our lack of size,” Strall said. “The girls are all hard-working so I anticipate a productive season.”
Coach: Corey Slovak, first season
Last season: 1-20, 1-13
Top players: Seniors Sam Charchol, 5-7, F; Tylor Brummett, 5-5, G. Juniors Kayla Schaeffer, 5-5, G; Morgan Kovacs, 5-6, G. Sophomores Morgan Connor, 5-6, G; Samantha Enck, 5-7, G; Hannah Novak, 5-8, G.
Outlook: The Eagles’ prospects for any significant climb in the TRAC standings are not bright, with only one starter (Brummett, 6 points) returning, no player in the program taller than 5-10, and nine of the 15 varsity players being sophomores or freshmen.
Slovak begins his head-coaching tenure relying on guard play and strong defensive effort to offset many of the team’s deficiencies. Charchol (4 points, 3 rebounds) provides some experience, as does Schaeffer (3 points).
“We will be leaning heavily on our guard play,” Slovak said. “We do not have any girls over 5-10 in the entire program, so we’ll have to pressure teams on defense, and shoot the ball really well just to be competitive. Our younger players had great success last season at the freshman and JV level, so we’re going to build on that winning attitude.”
Coach: Juan Vela, fourth season
Last season: 4-17, 2-12
Top players: Seniors Ariana Spencer, 5-8, W; Kiera Hall, 5-11, P. Juniors Shania Kiser, 5-11, P; Pam Micahel, 5-7, W. Sophomore Abbi Hasselbach, 5-7, G.
Outlook: The Little Giants are inexperienced overall with eight players on the roster with no prior varsity court time. Hasselbach (12 points, 3 assists), Spencer (6 points), and Hall (6 points) will be counted on to show the ropes to the team’s younger contingent. Three Ross players are coming off of ACL tears last season.
“I expect to be able to play hard and together with this group of girls every night we are out there on the court,” Vela said. “They have the ability to accomplish what ever they set there mind to. I am very excited to coach this group of girls.”
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.