A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Girls basketball preview: Ryle ranked No. 1 with everyone back from regional championship team

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

All of the success the Ryle girls basketball team enjoyed last season is a source of pride and pressure going into the 2018-19 campaign that begins on Monday.

Lauren Schwartz

The Raiders are ranked No. 1 in Northern Kentucky and No. 4 in the state in preseason coaches polls because all five starters are returning from a 29-4 team that won the program’s first 9th Region championship and made it to the quarterfinals of the state tournament last March.

They undoubtedly have the talent to repeat as regional champion, but favorites have fallen short before.

“They know that the expectations are there,” said Ryle coach Katie Haitz. “They want to go back to the state tournament and have that opportunity again, but we’ve made it clear that’s not something that happens on a regular basis, especially in a region that’s so hard to win like ours.”

Over the last 15 years, seven different teams have claimed the 9th Region girls basketball title. The only back-to-back winners during that span were Holmes in 2016 and 2017 and Boone County in 2009 and 2010.

Maddie Scherr

Ryle’s chances of repeating as regional champion look good because two of the team’s returning starters are senior guard Lauren Schwartz, a Rice University recruit, and junior guard Maddie Scherr, who has received scholarship offers from NCAA Division I teams all across the country.

Last season, Schwartz averaged 17.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. She was named most valuable player in the regional tournament after getting 16 points and 18 rebounds in the championship game.

Scherr’s final stats included 16.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. With her handling the point guard duties, Ryle averaged 65.3 points per game with its up-tempo style of play.

The team’s other returning starters are sophomore Brie Crittendon, junior Jaiden Douthit and senior Juliet McGregor. In the region and state tournaments, Douthitt had three double-figure scoring games and the other players each had two.

“There are certain times when certain players need to take over, but they understand if you don’t give everybody the ball you’re really easy to guard,” coach Haitz said.

Here’s a look at the other teams ranked among the top 12 in a preseason poll of Northern Kentucky coaches:

2. CONNER

Savannah Jordan / Courtney Hurst

The Cougars have won 72 of 100 games over the last three seasons with Courtney Hurst and Savannah Jordan in the starting lineup. Maddie Burcham and Joy Strange joined them as starters on the last two successful teams.

Those four seniors would like to end their careers as 9th Region champions this season and coach Aaron Stamm is certain they have the potential to do it.

“We played some teams around the state this summer that were really good and we did some really good things,” Stamm said. “The big key for us is are we going to practice hard each day. That’s what it’ll take.”

Hurst is the team’s top returning scorer with a 13.4 average. The shooting guard made 66 of her 148 field goals from behind the 3-point line last season. Jordan and Burcham both averaged nine points in the team’s fast-paced style of play with Strange handling the point guard duties.

The area that needs improvement is team defense right now,” said coach Stamm. “And developing a bench is something the Cougars will look to do in the early season.”

3. HIGHLANDS

Zoie Barth

Zoie Barth enters her sixth season on the Highlands varsity team needing 231 points to reach the 2,000 mark in career scoring. But the main goal on the senior guard’s mind is leading the Bluebirds to their first 9th Region championship since 2001.

Last season, Barth was named Division II Player of the Year by local coaches after averaging 19.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game on a team that finished 24-8 after a loss in the first round of the regional tournament.

Coach Jaime Walz has several other varsity veterans on the roster, including seniors Chloe Jansen, Ashley Hayes and Hannah Buecker, junior Piper Macke and sophomore Rory O’Hara. None of them had double-figure scoring averages last season, but they each played a role in helping limit opponents to 43.9 points per game.

The Bluebirds had an 0-4 record against Conner and Ryle last season. How well they do against those two teams ranked ahead of them in preseason coaches polls could dictate how far they go in the playoffs.

4. DIXIE HEIGHTS

Sydney Lockard

The Colonels have all but one player back from last year’s 23-10 team that posted the program’s best record in more than 20 years and made it to the final four of the 9th Region tournament for the first time since 2005.

Coach Joel Steczynski said the only ones who weren’t surprised with the team’s success were the players themselves and they look to be a title contender once again with their defensive intensity and high-octane offense.

The team’s floor leader is sophomore point guard Sydney Lockard, who averaged 7.7 points, 5.1 assists and 3.1 steals last season. The top returning scorers are senior Grace Perry and junior Celia Pelfrey, who averaged 12.7 and 10.7 points per game and made a combined total of 120 3-point goals.

The Colonels’ other returning starter is senior Kaylee McGinn. She’s a strong post player who averaged 8.2 points, pulled down a team-high 7.1 rebounds per game and shot 59.9 percent from the field last season.

5. SIMON KENTON

Maggi Jones

The defending 8th Region champions lost three starters to graduation, including all-time leading scorer Ally Niece. But coach Jeff Stowers doesn’t consider this a rebuilding year with juniors Morgan Stamper and Maggie Jones returning.

While Niece was recovering from knee surgery for most of last season, Jones and Stamper stepped up as sophomores and helped the Pioneers post a winning record.

Stamper finished with team-high averages of 14.1 points and 6.8 rebounds as a starting forward. Jones averaged 12.7 points and shot 35 percent from 3-point range from her guard position.

Junior guard Mattie Vickers is among the leading candidates for a starting position. Last season, she saw action in all 31 games and averaged 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds for the Pioneers.

If the new lineup comes together, there’s a good chance Simon Kenton will continue its string of seven consecutive seasons with 20 or more wins under Stowers.

6. CAMPBELL COUNTY

Three players who provided 70 percent of the scoring for Campbell County last season have graduated so coach Beau Menefee said it will take some time to put a new offense in place.

“Our guard play will be a strength,” Menefee said. “Jalyn Jackson will serve as our point guard and Mallory Holbrook will serve as our shooting guard. Tamara Wells will give us a nice presence down low.”

Wells averaged 5.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and shot 58 percent form the field last season when the Camels posted a 29-4 record. Holbrook is the team’s top returning scorer with a 6.3 average and shot 38 percent from behind the 3-point line.

The coach also expects senior guard McKinlee Miller, junior forwards Haley Turner and Hope Russell and freshman forward Kylie Koeninger to play more significant roles this season.

7. SCOTT

The only senior on Scott’s 10th Region runner-up team last season was Anna Clephane, who was among the state’s leading scorers with a 26.6 average. To offset her graduation, coach Rhonda Klette is counting on a returning starter and transfer student to lead the offense.

Summer Secrist is a senior guard who averaged 14 points and 2.1 assists and shot 55.7 percent from the field on last year’s team. Her new teammate is sophomore Mya Meredith, who transferred from Newport where she averaged 17 points and seven rebounds per game.

“We look to play a fast game and pressure on the defensive end,” coach Klette said.  “We have a lot of offensive weapons with improved play from Sofia Allen and Ava Coleman.  Emma Profit has gained confidence in her scoring ability and is a threat from anywhere inside the paint.”

8. WALTON-VERONA

The Bearcats have a solid backcourt duo in senior Brooke Perry and sophomore Haylee Neeley. They were the top two scorers on last year’s 24-10 team that won the 8th Region All “A” Classic and got to the semifinals in the post-season regional playoffs.

Perry is a shooting guard who averaged 12.6 points and Neeley is a point guard who averaged 9.6 points and shot 51 percent from the field. The team’s other returning starter is senior forward Emma Strunk with a 7.7 scoring average.

“With multiple kids being able to play different positions on the floor, we hope other teams will have a difficult time matching up to us,” said coach Mark Clinkenbeard.”

9. HOLY CROSS

With a good-shooting guard and dominant post player among the returning starters, Holy Cross is a small-school team that has big-time potential under first-year head coach Marty Rankin.

Senior guard Olivia Crigler buried 72 3-pointers last season to account for most of her 11.2 scoring average. The Indians also have 6-foot-6 sophomore Sidney Thomas back in the lineup. She averaged 9.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.

The other varsity veterans who saw action in every game during last year’s 18-13 season are guards Trinity McClendon and Lauren Rankin and forward Jade Simpson, who pulled down a game-high 6.6 rebounds per game.

10. NOTRE DAME

Kes Murphy, the coach who built a state championship team at Holy Cross, takes charge of a Notre Dame program that finished 7-22 and 8-18 the last two seasons and hasn’t made it to the 9th Region tournament since 2014.

Nine of the 11 players on Murphy’s roster are sophomores or freshman with little or no varsity experience. The only returning starter is senior guard Danielle Rennekamp, who averaged 8.7 points and 2.6 rebounds. Riley Hemmer is a promising sophomore guard who played in 12 varsity games last season.

11. BOONE COUNTY

The top two scorers on last year’s team graduated and there’s only one senior on the current roster, but coach Ryan Bowman expects the Rebels to improve on last year’s 8-22 record.

The lone senior is guard Kayla Anderson, who averaged 6.7 points and 4.8 rebounds last season. Most of the underclassmen on the roster are also listed as guards. The ones who got the most varsity playing time last season were junior Alissa Avilla and sophomores Kelsie Anderson and Adrianna Haynes.

12. NEWPORT CENTRAL CATHOLIC

Ralph Meyer Jr. begins his head coaching career at NewCath with senior forward Kara Zimmerman as the only starter returning from last season’s 11-18 team that lost seven games by nine points or less.

Zimmerman, who averaged 10 points per game, will provide senior leadership along with her twin sister, Kacy, and guards Jayln Vogt and Olivia Kuetemeyer. The most experienced underclassman on the roster is sophomore guard Annie Heck, who averaged 5.7 points last year.

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