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In the first two years of the Three Rivers Athletic Conference, Notre Dame is 28-0 in conference play and has capped each of those seasons with a trip to the Division I girls basketball state semifinals.
Mix in the fact that sixth-year coach Travis Galloway’s Eagles just happen to return four starters and TRAC coaches didn’t have to spend a lot of time thinking which team to place first on the ballots of their preseason poll.
The Eagles were a unanimous pick in the to capture a third straight title. Whitmer was voted second, Lima Senior third, and Central Catholic fourth.
“Last year was a little bit of a surprise after losing such a great senior class from 2012,” said Galloway, who is 91-29 at Notre Dame. “As the season went on, we kept getting better and improving, and they started to develop confidence as the tournament went on.
“This year, we expect to have that confidence right away, with the understanding that we still have to get better every day we go in the gym. We’re the ones people are looking at more than we were last year.”
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
Coach: Travis Galloway, sixth season
Last season: 25-4 overall, 14-0 TRAC
Top players: Seniors Jayda Worthy, 6-0, F; Talajha Parker, 5-6, W. Juniors Tierra Floyd, 6-2, W; Kaayla McIntyre, 6-2, P; Christiana Jefferson, 5-5, G.
Outlook: The Eagles are coming off back-to-back trips to the Division I state final four and have yet to lose a TRAC game entering the conference’s third season. On top of that, they return four starters, led by Worthy (12.5 points, 6.8 rebounds). Floyd (11.9 points, 5.7 rebounds) made major strides last season after an injury-plagued freshman year. McIntyre (10.5 points, 8.1 rebounds), the third member of Notre Dame’s Big Three, has been a force in the post for two years.
Jefferson (6.2 points, 3.7 assists) is a solidifying presence at the point, capable of creating offense in tough situations.
Galloway points to the Eagles’ size and experience as their biggest strengths and likes his team’s ability to play multiple styles. Guard depth is another plus. If Notre Dame lacks anything it may be size off the bench and a true go-to defensive player.
“With four starters back, and eight total players back, we feel that this team could be very successful,” Galloway said. “If we continue to work hard every day and push each other in practice, this could be a team that competes for another league title.”
Coach: Sean Flemmings, second season
Last season: 16-7, 9-5
Top players: Seniors Keshyra McCarver, 5-9, F; Tricia Kimmel, 5-7, G. Juniors Samantha Meinen, 5-11, G; Abigail Sarabia, 5-9, F; Megan Semler, 5-6, G.
Outlook: The Panthers look to compete at the top of the TRAC again, although knocking off Notre Dame could be a tall order. McCarver (18.0 points, 8.7 rebounds) was the TRAC and district player of the year in 2012-13 and received first-team All-Ohio honors. Meinen (10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds) and Sarabia (7.5 points, 5.2 rebounds) provide a solid 1-2 complementary punch behind McCarver.
The Panthers’ chief strength is their experience with four starters returning, and Flemmings is confident about the team’s depth. With only two seniors, however, the coach will be looking for additional leadership to emerge.
“We feel the keys to a successful season will be rebounding as a team, reducing our turnover total from last season, and getting contributions from our bench,” Flemmings said.
Coach: Vince Halliday, seventh season
Last season: 15-10, 7-7
Top players: Senior Indiya Benjamin, 5-6, G. Juniors Shaquala Johnson, 5-9, F; Imara Haynes, 6-0, P. Sophomores Essence Cowan, 5-7, G; Rion Thompson, 5-9, W.
Outlook: The Spartans made good strides last season, finishing in the top half of the TRAC. Leading the way will be Benjamin (17.4 points, 6.8 assists), with help from Thompson (10.4 points, 6.0 rebounds) and Cowan (7.8 points, 3.9 rebounds). Senior Miercedez Carter (5-8, F), who moved to Indiana last season after starting as a sophomore for the Spartans, rejoins the team and adds depth.
Lima has proven scoring ability, and carries solid momentum into the new season with some quality depth.
“With eight returning letter winners, the expectations will be high,” Halliday said. “The biggest improvement we need will be on the defensive end of the floor.”
Coach: Marty McGurk, fourth season
Last season: 14-7, 10-4
Top players: Senior Michelle Murnen, 5-8, G-F. Juniors Demi Russell, 6-1, C; Keytha Foreman, 5-3, G. Sophomores Alissa Galernik, 5-10, G; Alex Matus, 5-3, G; Lindsey Matus, 5-3, G.
Outlook: The Irish return two starters in Murnen (12.8 points, 3.8 rebounds) and Russell (6.9 points, 7.8 rebounds), five other letter winners, plus bring up members of last season’s unbeaten JV team.
McGurk sees the team’s backcourt corps as a chief strength and is optimistic that Russell will emerge as a force inside this season.
One trouble area could be inexperience in the frontcourt outside of the starting lineup.
“The outlook for this season is positive,” McGurk said. “We will have quality guards who should be able to to get us into our offense and create problems for the other teams’ defense. This will be one of the more athletic teams Central has had in the last few years.”
Coach: Connie Lyon, 11th season
Last season: 18-5, 12-2
Top players: Seniors Zoe Swisher, 5-6, G; Jacey Hardesty, 5-7, G; Joslyn Bendt, 5-7, G; Jenny Vielhaber, 5-9, F; Sarah Thomas, 5-7, G; Sarah Wintrow, 5-7, G; Lexi Blatnik, 5-7, G.
Outlook: The Trojans lost three key seniors (combined 28.1 points per game) from last year’s TRAC runner-up team to graduation, plus their top expected returnee in current senior Taylor Stanfield (10.6 points, 7.7 rebounds), who suffered a torn ACL in October.
Thus, approaching last season’s level in the TRAC will be a difficult proposition.
Swisher (4.7 points, 3.7 assists) and Hardesty (5.7 points, 1.3 assists) will be looked to for leadership on what is an almost guard-exclusive roster. Seven letter winners return, so experience is not completely lacking. But only one starter is back, and depth may be another issue.
“We will be putting all guards on the floor after losing all but one of our starting lineup from last year,” Lyon said. “Jenny Vielhaber will be shouldering the post position.”
Coach: Corey Slovak, second season
Last season: 5-18, 3-11
Top players: Senior Kayla Shaffer, 5-5, G. Juniors Morgan Connor, 5-7, G; Samantha Enck, 5-7, G; Haley Orr, 5-7, G; Hannah Novak, 5-8, F.
Outlook: The Eagles look to make an improvement on last year’s standing in the TRAC, with three returning starters plus two other letter winners back.
Connor (9.9 points, 7 rebounds) should lead the way, with experienced help from Shaffer (5 points, 4 assists), Novak (5 points, 5 rebounds), and Enck (6 points, 4 rebounds). Guard play will be a strength along with 3-point shooting and the ability to create defensive pressure. But a lack of overall size may well lead to rebounding troubles.
“We have an opportunity this season to be competitive and improve,” Slovak said. “Our keys to success will be our guards taking care of the ball and minimizing turnovers, how well we shoot the 3-ball, and our defensive pressure. It’s going to be an uphill battle with us rebounding.”
Coach: Juan Vela, fifth season
Last season: 6-18, 0-14
Top players: Seniors Abbi Hasselbach, 5-7, G; Shania Kiser, 5-11, F; Whitney Overmyer, 5-10, F; Pam Michael, 5-6, W; Junior Torri Holmes, 5-6, W.
Outlook: The Little Giants return four starters, plus two other letter winners, and look to improve their lot within the TRAC standings this season. Hasselbach (12 points, 2.5 assists) and Kiser (8 points, 5 rebounds) will be counted on for leadership.
Ross will rely on its team speed to utilize an uptempo game, and its defense is expected to be a plus. Consistent shooting will be a question mark, although Vela sees potential from the 3-point line.
“Having six seniors to put on the floor, I expect everyone to be on the same page and know what is going on,” Vela said. “I believe we will have a lot of tight games. We also have three sophomores that can give this team a different identity, if they can adjust to the varsity tempo.”
Coach: Jim Strall, second season
Last season: 9-12, 3-11
Top players: Seniors Margaret Rode, 5-8, F; Gabby Jordan, 5-7, F. Juniors Megan Burns, 5-6, G; Allison Farell, 5-5, G. Freshman Alex Richards, 6-2, C.
Outlook: Even though the Arrows return three starters and three other letter winners, they may have trouble competing in the upper half of the TRAC. An emphasis on utilizing team quickness and defensive play could help the chances of an undersized roster. That lack of height will likely make rebounding and post defense troublesome.
“Our team is looking to build and improve on last season in regards to strengthening our rebounding and eliminating the opponent’s ball possessions,” Strall said. “We have an aggressive, hard-working team that must play fundamental basketball.”