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A tight three-team race is expected in the Northern Buckeye Conference but a new champion is predicted to emerge.
Genoa was picked to edge out Lake and defending champion Elmwood for the crown. The Comets are seeking their first league title since they shared the Suburban Lakes League title in 2007-08 with the Royals.
Genoa went just 8-15 overall and 3-11 in league play last season. But four starters return for coach Mike DeStazio, including the league's top scorer and the leading rebounder.
The Comets are paced by senior guard Ciara Albright, an All-NBC first teamer who averaged 16.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Fellow senior Brynn Skilliter, a 5-foot-8 post player, led the NBC in rebounding (9.9 per game).
DeStazio said his team should be very athletic with a lot of depth at guard.
“If we stay healthy and continue to improve on our basketball skills to match our athleticism, we could be very good this year,” he said.
Lake, which won the final three SLL titles before capturing the first NBC crown in 2011-12, is expected to give Genoa the biggest challenge.
Jim Gracyk is in his second season as coach of the Flyers after guiding Eastwood for 17 seasons (1990-2007). At Eastwood, he compiled a 300-97 record and captured 10 SLL titles.
Gracyk said his team has depth and versatility, along with solid post play.
“I think we'll start slowly but we will be better than last year,” he said.
Defending champion Elmwood is picked for a close third followed by Rossford.
“We expect to compete for an NBC title,” said Elmwood coach Doug Reynolds, citing his team's speed and depth as factors.
There are new coaches at Eastwood, Fostoria, and Rossford.
“Our league should be as balanced as ever with as many as six teams capable of winning the championship,” Woodmore coach Kyle Clair said.
Here’s a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
Coach: Mike DeStazio, fourth season
Last season: 8-15 overall, 3-11 NBC
Top players: Seniors Ciara Albright, 5-7, G ; Katie Jensen, 5-8, W; Brynn Skilliter, 5-8, P. Sophomores Haley Pickard, 5-6, G; Haley Gerke, 5-4, G; Carly Gose, 5-0, G; Erica Harder, 5-11, W.
Outlook: The Comets look to be very athletic, quick, with quality and depth in the back court.
DeStazio, who is 38-31 at Genoa, has four starters and six letter winners back.
Albright earned All-NBC first team last year. Jensen averaged 7.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Skilliter average 2.0 points and 9.9 boards.
“Brynn Skilliter could be a real surprise in the league if she continues to more of an offensive threat,” DeStazio said.
Pickard scored 9.0 points and had 5.0 rebounds as a freshman, while Gerke also saw significant playing time.
But lack of size and depth at post position could trip up the Comets.
“Our strength is definitely the guard spot. If my post players continue to improve, we could be that much better with an inside-outside game,” DeStazio said.
Coach: Jim Gracyk, second season
Last season: 13-11, 10-4
Top players: Seniors Sara Dabney, 5-10, P; Ana Henneman, 6-0, P; Sumer Woodruff, 5-9, P. Juniors Jordyn Taylor, 5-6, G; Catie Phalen, 5-5, G; Alexis Hansen, 5-8, G.
Outlook: Four of five starters back with eight letter winners overall.
Taylor scored 11.0 points, dished out 5.0 assists, and had 4.0 steals per game en route to earning All-NBC first team.
Phalen, Dabney, and Woodruff each scored 5.0 points per game. Phalen hit 22 3-pointers, while Dabney pulled down 5.0 rebounds. Woodruff tallied 23 3-pointers. Henneman and Hansen each chipped in with 4.0 points.
Gracyk said all 10 players can contribute, allowing him to play them in multiple positions.
“The bigs can step out and play facing the basket,” he said.
But he said lack of size, average speed, and inconsistent shooting could be trouble areas.
“Everything we are doing this year is new,” said Gracyk, who has coached for 41 years overall and has a career record of 320-121 in 20 seasons as a head coach.
Coach: Doug Reynolds, third season
Last season: 21-4, 13-1
Top players: Seniors Kristen Curtis, 5-10, W; Tiffany Hillard, 5-8, W; Marissa Swavel, 5-5, G; Courtney Emmitt, 5-5, G. Juniors Samantha Ervin, 6-0, P; Ashley Veryser, 5-11, W.
Outlook: Reynolds, who led the boys team at Elmwood for eight seasons (109-66 record) and has a 34-13 record guiding the girls program, said team speed and depth should be strengths.
“We should be able to go deeper into our bench than we have in the past,” he said.
The Royals reached the Division III district title game last season.
Curtis averaged 12.2 points and 6.7 rebounds to earn All-NBC first team. Hillard tallied 4.0 points and 3.0 rebounds.
But Reynolds lost a lot of leadership to graduation and he must replace players that accounted for 29 points per game.
“We will utilize our team speed,” Reynolds said. “To reach a title, we will need to become better scorers. We will be a work in progress, but I expect a very strong unit by January.”
Coach: Eric Simon, first season
Last season: 13-11, 10-4
Top players: Seniors Julie Hotz, 5-9, G; Margo Jackson, 5-4, G; Maddie York, 5-0, G; Jessie Pietrasz, 5-6, F; Kelly Swope, 5-8, F. Junior Kirsten Keller, 5-3, G.
Outlook: Simon takes over for Kevin Mitchell and inherits a team that has three starters and six letter winners back.
Hotz earned all-league first team after scoring 12.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Jackson (4.6 points, 3.2 assists) is also back. York, Keller, Pietrasz, and Swope saw valuable minutes last season.
Simon said experience, athleticism, and team chemistry should be strengths.
But he is concerned with his team's lack of depth and heighte.
“Our girls will be able to compete every game,” Simon said. “Our goal is to win the league championship. If we stay healthy, win the turnover battle, and play aggressive, we should be within striking distance of our goal.”
Coach: Kyle Clair, sixth season
Last season: 13-10, 9-5
Top players: Seniors Ashleigh Blausey, 5-6, P; Mackenzie Johnson 5-10, F/P; Kathy Reynolds 5-6, G; Allie Wank 5-10, F/P; Grace Weirich 5-7, G. Junior Jordan Williams, 5-6, G.
Outlook: With six letter winners returning, early indications point toward a good season.
That strong group is combined with players from a junior varsity team that compiled a 12-8 overall record.
“We have the makings for a team that can be successful,” Clair said.
Wank, a two-year letter winner, averaged 11.2 points and 5.4 reboundsto earn All-NBC and all-district first-team honors.
Weirich (6.7 points, 2.6 rebounds) and Johnson (7.7 points, 3.2 rebounds) were All-NBC honorable mention.
Clair said his team cause teams some match-up problems. The Wildcats should be good in transition, but need to work on their discipline in the half court.
“Our expectation is to compete for the league title this season. I believe we are much better than many people think we will be,” Clair said. “I have been looking forward to the start of practice since we lost in the district semifinal last season because of the possibilities of what this team can do.”
Coach: Scott Bernthisel, seventh season
Last season: 8-15, 5-9
Top players: Senior Lindsey Donald, 5-6, G. Juniors Abby Hesselschwardt, 5-10, F; Madeline Asmus, 5-5, G. Sophomores Morgan Smoyer, 5-10, F; Kim Forshey, 5-10, G; MacKenzie Wenig, 5-6, G.
Outlook: Three starters and five letter winners back. Smoyer averaged 9.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game as a freshman. Donald tallied 6.2 points and 1.8 assists. Forshey averaged 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds.
Bernthisel, who has a 67-65 record, said he likes his team’s inside game, post presence, and rebounding. But he is concerned about his young squad's ability to handle pressure.
“We're very optimistic about the upcoming season,” Bernthisel said. “Although we're still young, we have a lot of varsity experience returning as well as some players from the junior varsity that will help fill holes left by graduating seniors.”
He said he believes his team could have a stay in the NBC race.
“If we can handle other teams’ pressure and play every possession with a sense of urgency, I believe we can be near the top of the league,” he said.
Coach: Lindsay Ross, first season
Last season: 6-16, 5-9
Top players: Senior Emily Hayward, 6-0, P. Juniors Reagan Boice, 5-6, G; Krista Jennings, 5-8, G/P. Sophomores Mackenzie Albright, 5-6, G; Aubrey Peters, 5-8, P.
Outlook: With no returning starters, Ross will count on six returning letter winners.
“We have very quick guards that can run the floor well,” Ross said. “Our guards are also great shooters and they have great range.”
But the Eagles already are dealing with injuries.
“We need our girls to step up and fill spots,” she said. “We have had to make adjustments so the girls need to respond well to the changes or we may struggle.”
Several players are fighting for starting positions.
“It will end up being the players who understand and execute our offense that will get starting roles,” she said. “If we execute our offense and the shots fall, we will be competitive in our league.”
Coach: J.T. Bates, first season
Last season: 1-22, 1-13
Top players: Seniors Kierra Settles, 5-8, P; Eliza Sanchez, 5-2, G. Juniors Jada Hampton, 5-9, G; Erica Moore, 5-7, G; Alexus Smith, 5-8, P; Lila Lenz, 5-7, P. Sophomore Olivia Valenti, 5-2, G.
Outlook: The Redmen’s team speed and defensive intensity should be two bright spots.
“We are improving everyday shooting the ball and handling the ball,”Bates said. “We have a good deal of experience as well.”
Four of five starters back along with seven letter winners.
Hampton tallied 10.2 points and grabbed 2.2 rebounds per game. Moore (9.5, 5.6), Settles (4.5, 3.0), and Smith (3.0, 4.7) are also top players for Fostoria.
But Fostoria is very thin when it comes to depth.
“We also have very little size and rebounding is something we must get better at,” he said. “We must limit our turnovers as well.
"Success will follow if we continue to learn and work each day. We are building something special here and we are excited about what the future has in store for us."