It's little secret as to which team in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League is a unanimous favorite to win the league championship: Archbold, coming off a 24-1 season — the best in the team’s history — is the clear-cut choice.
The Blue Streaks have a half-dozen seasoned players back on the floor after streaking to a perfect 8-0 league record a year ago.
“We put the league first, and hopefully, come February you can put us in the mix to be a league champion,” said fifth-year Archbold coach Brian Ziegler.
Despite losing three starters to graduation from the first Archbold team to go 20-0 during the regular season, Ziegler still has plenty of talent and experience.
Junior forward Cassidy Wyse returns as the Blue Streaks’ top player after averaging double figures as a sophomore. The wing player will be Archbold’s first option on offense, but it’s not a single-option attack. Seniors Taylor Coressel and Darian Oberlin have also shown solid scoring skills.
“Wyse, being an all-state player, expectations are high,” Ziegler said. “She’s matured and become a leader on the court and the girls follow her. She's turned into a great leader.
“She plays inside and out. She’ not one dimensional and she’s very unselfish. She looks out for the team first.”
And the rest of the NWOAL figures to look out for the Blue Streaks as the team to beat.
“I look for [Archbold] to be in the hunt for a league title at the end of the season,” Patrick Henry coach Joe Pennington said. “There are many other good teams throughout the league, and every team needs to be ready to go each and every night.”
Pennington’s Patriots are one of those teams looking to make a run at the defending league champions. A wealth of experience, led by 6-foot-3 senior post Kelsey Tietje, should make PH a difficult opponent.
Wauseon coach Brad Myers, who has coached the Indians for more than two decades, returns six players.
“I believe Archbold has to be the favorite, with the season they had last year and the number of players they return from that team,” Myers said.
Bryan, Liberty Center, Swanton, and Montpelier look to make greater strides from a year ago.
"I see our league being balanced with Archbold the favorite, and Patrick Henry, Wauseon, Delta and ourselves as all being very competitive," Bryan coach Eric Stantz said.
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
Coach: Brian Ziegler, fifth season
Last season: 24-1, 8-0
Top players: Senior Taylor Coressel, 5-6, G; Darian Oberlin, 5-9, G. Juniors Cassidy Wyse, 5-9, F; Jesse Fidler, 5-9, G. Sophomores Cassidy Williams, 5-8, G; Hanna Hesterman, 5-10, F.
Outlook: The Blue Streaks don't consider themselves in a rebuilding phase even though five regular contributors to last year's undefeated regular season have graduated.
It's a team that still has enough returning experience to be picked as the favorite to repeat as NWOAL champion. Six returning players, led by All-Ohio second teamer Wyse (12.4 points, 6.6 rebounds), provide Archbold with plenty of experience to contend.
Coressel (6.6 points, 2.5 steals) and Fidler (5.4 points, 2.3 rebounds) are expected to take on greater leadership roles this season as returning letterwinners. Oberlin (3.3 points, 2.1 rebounds) and Williams (3.3 points, 1.3 steals) also have at least a year of experience playing at the varsity level.
“Expectations are optimistically high with who we have returning and adding them to the new players,” Ziegler said. “Everyone needs to stay focused on their role. Last year is over and we start with a new team. What hasn't changed is the expectation to play hard and do our job.”
Coach: Brad Myers, 23nd season
Last season: 13-8, 4-4
Top players: Seniors Alyssa Reed, 5-7, F; Annette Stidham, 6-0, C; Quincy Brock, 5-7, F; Sydney Chamberlain, 5-5 F; Jessi Myers, 5-5, F. Sophomore Haley Archibeque, 5-5, G.
Outlook: The Indians return six letterwinners from a team that progressed a year ago. Pushing up the NWOAL standings and competing for a league championship are among their goals.
Reed (6.6 points, 6.0 rebounds) and Stidham (2.7 points, 4.2 rebounds) are the most experienced players from last season. Contributions from Brock, Chamberlain, Myers, and Archibeque will be key for Wauseon.
"We should have a lot of depth this year," said Myers, who owns a 352-150 career record. "This will hopefully allow us to play a more up-tempo style and put more pressure on teams defensively."
Juniors Hannah Blaylock (5-8, C) and Lexie Lane (5-5, F) are two of the top newcomers expected to provide depth.
Coach: John Langenderfer, 10th season
Last season: 19-4 overall, 7-1 NWOAL
Top players: Seniors Danielle Marvin, 5-10, C; Carly Truckor, 5-5, G. Junior Kendalyn Noe, 5-3, G. Freshmen Haili Mussing, 5-7, F; Hannah Machacek, 5-4, G.
Outlook: There's no replacing Evergreen graduate Lauren Langenderfer, the school's all-time leading score and an Ohio co-player of the year performer.
Coach Langenderfer will need to fill the void of 24 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists per game that his daughter averaged in her senior season. Marvin, Truckor, and Noe are the top returners from a year ago, when the Vikings came one victory shy of at least sharing a NWOAL championship with Archbold.
"We want to improve with some hard work and having a good attitude," Langenderfer said. "We should be competitive in the second half of the season."
The Vikings have averaged 18 wins a season the past five years.
Coach: Ryan Ripke, third season
Last season: 17-6, 6-2
Top players: Seniors Mary Kina, 5-8, F; Allison Kelsey, 5-8, F. Juniors Abbie Harris, 5-6, G; Bri Raab, 5-7, G. Sophomores Brigan Wymer, 5-7, G; Victoria Burdo, 5-9, G; Alexa Lauch, 5-6, G; Brailee Green, 5-7, G. Freshman Morgan Mattimore, 5-6, G.
Outlook: The Panthers head into the season with plenty of optimism that this year could be their year for a comeback in the NWOAL.
Delta returns three starters — Wymer (13.0 points, 5.0 rebounds), Burdo (9.4 points, 1.7 rebounds), and Harris (7.3 points, 2.2 rebounds) — and is one of the most experienced groups entering the season.
"Expectations are high for maybe the first time in school history," Ripke said. "We have the bulk of our team back from a school-record 17 wins and the first sectional title in the program's history. With that being said, the NWOAL could be as competitive as it has been in the past few years."
Coach: Joe Pennington, third season
Last season: 7-14, 3-5
Top players: Seniors Kelsey Tietje, 6-3, C; Katy Hammer, 5-7, F; Lindsey Meyer, 5-4, G-F; Rylee Bower, 6-0, C; Kayla Fintel, 5-6, F; Torey Rosebrook, 5-6, F; Mallory Michaelis, 5-10, F-C. Juniors Rachel Nye, 5-8, F; Kristin Bostelman, 5-8, G.
Outlook: The Patriots closed out the season the past two years with 3-5 records in the NWOAL. They return nearly 10 letter winners.
Tietje (15.7 points, 11.8 rebounds) is an All-NWOAL first team selection. She proved to be a double-double waiting to happen on most nights during her junior season.
Hammer (7.8 points, 5.0 rebounds), Bostelman (6.1 points, 3.4 rebounds), and Bower (6.3 rebounds, 5.1 points) should provide plenty of support for Tietje.
"Our girls have learned that they can play with anybody," Pennington said. "We look to control the tempo and pace of the game on both ends."
Coach: Eric Stantz, third season
Last season: 13-9, 5-3
Top players: Seniors Lydia Snavely, 5-9, F-C; Katie Roushia, 5-8, F; Makayla Dennis, 5-6, G-F. Juniors Hannah Schimmoeller, 5-7, G; Rachel Fruth, 5-6, F.
Outlook: Good overall size and team depth makes the Golden Bears a team to be reckoned with. Schimmoeller (15.7 points, 3.2 rebounds) and Dennis (11.6 points, 2.8 rebounds) led the team in scoring and are expected to pose problems for opposing defenses.
"Our strengths should be that we have two girls who have the ability to score on a consistent basis," Stantz said, speaking of Schimmoeller and Dennis. "We have four girls who started at some point during last season and five returning letter winners."
Snavely (3.5 rebounds, 2.5 points) and Fruth (3.1 points, 3.9 rebounds) figure to make more of an impact.
Coach: John Lauf, first season
Last season: 2-18, 1-7
Top players: Seniors Sondra Prchlik, 5-6, F; Lauren Rohrs, F; Torri Biddle, F. Juniors Niki Meyer, 5-7, F; Katie Gilson, F; Haleigh Huffman, F. Sophomores Andrea Weirach, F; Destinee Hull, F; Brittany Atkinson, G.
Outlook: The first-year coach is hoping to see plenty of strides. A push to be competitive against NWOAL competition is the first priority for a team that returned only three letter winners and will be counting on a lot of new faces.
"I am extremely optimistic about the team this year," said Lauf, who has previously coached the LC boys team. "Our individual skill development and team play is key.
"We want to play an up-tempo style that should be fun to watch."
Meyer (11.0 points, 3.5 rebounds), Weirach (5.5 points, 4.0 rebounds) and Prchlik (2.3 points, 2.4 rebounds) make up the most of the Tigers' experience from a year ago.
Coach: Frank Onweller, 11th season
Last season: 5-16, 2-6
Top players: Seniors Bethann Lumbrezer, 6-0, F; Jessica Gilsdorf, 5-6, G; Courtney Eitniear, 5-8, F. Junior Allison Knepley, 5-7, F; Jenna Carr, 5-6, G; Brooke Eitniear, 5-11, F; Victoria Przybylsk, 5-4, F. Sophomores Emily Callicotte, 5-6, G; Megyn Christensen, 5-10, F.
Outlook: The Bulldogs are looking for improvement from a year ago when they came away with only two league victories.
The fact that four starters from a year ago are back on the court makes them one of the more experienced teams in the NWOAL. Lumbrezer (8.1 points, 4.7 rebounds) and Gilsdorf (5.0 points, 4.0 rebounds), boh All-league honorable mentions last season, lead the way for a team with a total of six returning letterwinners. "Our strengths will be our experience, depth, athleticism and willingness to work and continue to improve," Onweller said.
Coach: Dawn Smith, sixth season
Last season: 3-18, 0-8
Top players: Seniors Lauren Dye, 5-10, F; Aleah Maas, 5-8, G; Hannah Blake, 5-8, G.
Outlook: The Locomotives improved their victory total by one game last season. The objective is to continue showing strides forward and look to put a more competitive team out on the floor against NWOAL opponents.
Dye (15.5 points, 5.9 rebounds) doubled her scoring average from her sophomore season to her junior year. She's the centerpiece of the Locomotives' offensive game plan.
Finding enough quality support for Dye could go a long way for the Locomotives to make more noise in league than they have during Smith's tenure. Maas (5.7 points, 5.0 rebounds) returns with plenty of experience.