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Girls Basketball Preview: Ryle voted No. 1 in coaches poll with four starters returning from 23-3 season

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

After winning three consecutive 9th Region championships, the Ryle girls basketball team lost a close game in the region semifinals last season and said goodbye to senior guard Brie Crittendon, a four-year starter who played on the 2019 state championship team.

The Raiders were voted No. 1 in this year’s Northern Kentucky preseason coaches poll because they have four of their top five scorers back and two of them – junior guard Abby Holtman and sophomore center Sarah Baker – have received multiple NCAA Division I scholarship offers.

Ryle junior guard Abby Holtman

“We should have an experienced team that can compete with top teams within the region and around the state,” said Ryle coach Katie Haitz, who has an impressive 147-49 record in six years after a 23-3 campaign last season.

Holtman made 66 3-point goals last season to account for more than half of her 12.9 scoring average. She shot 40.7 percent from behind the arc and 46.8 percent overall.

The other returning players who had double-figure scoring averages are junior guard Austin Johnson (11.0) and sophomore forward Quinn Eubank (10.1).

Eubank also pulled down a team-high 10.6 rebounds while Baker, a 6-foot-2 center, averaged 8.0 points and 5.8 rebounds as a freshman starter. Last summer, Baker impressed college scouts playing in national tournaments with a club team based in West Virginia.

The only senior on Ryle’s roster is guard Lele Nguyen, who played in all 26 games last season. She’ll be sharing playing time with nine younger teammates so the Raiders can develop some depth through out the season.

Notre Dame and Cooper also received first-place votes in the Northern Kentucky preseason coaches poll conducted by NKyTribune sports. Here’s a look at the other teams that finished in the top 10 based on total voting points.


Lacey Bradshaw

Seven seniors on Notre Dame’s roster will make a final run at the 9th Region championship after losing close games in the region finals the last two years by margins of two and five points. 

The senior veterans include shooting guard Lacey Bradshaw and point guard Macie Feldman, the team’s leading scorers last season with averages of 14.4 and 11.1 points per game.

Bradshaw, a major college prospect, also led the Pandas in rebounding average (8.6) and field goal percentage (51.2) during their 21-5 season that ended with a 45-43 loss to Dixie Heights in the region final.

Jillian MacKnight and Noelle Hubert made a combined total of 85 3-point goals last season. Drue Disken and Abby Breeze are a pair of 5-foot-10 senior forwards who helped the Pandas limit opponents to 34.8 points per game, the best defensive average in the state.


Whitney Lind

With all the players who made Justin Holthaus’ first season as head coach a rousing success returning, Cooper is considered a serious contender for the program’s first 9th Region championship.

The Jaguars’ top player is junior Whitney Lind, a four-year starter who is getting Division I scholarship offers after averaging 15 points and 6.5 rebounds on last year’s 17-5 team.

Junior point guard Kay Freihofer will be the team’s floor leader once again. The other returning starters are sophomores Liz Freihofer, Meleah Alexander and Logan Palmer, who averaged 12.6 points and shot 49 percent from the field.

Holthaus said his players will once again rely on their length and athleticism at the defensive end of the floor where they allowed just 40.5 points per game last year.


Dixie Heights senior Madelyn Lawson

The defending 9th Region champions lost their long-time floor leader Sydney Lockard to graduation, but leading scorer Madelyn Lawson is back along with junior guards Sammy Berman, Ella Steczynski and Reese Smith.

Lawson is a 5-foot-11 power forward who had team-high averages of 14.3 points and 8.2 rebounds and shot 53.7 percent from the field during last year’s 27-3 campaign that included a 22-game winning streak. 

Berman and Smith are good outside shooters who had a combined average of 14.4 points per game. Steczynski is a “lockdown defender,” according to her father, Joel, who is head coach of the Colonels. His daughter could also be the team’s new point guard.   


One of four returning starters for the Indians is sophomore post player Julia Hunt, who averaged 13.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game on last year’s 16-9 team that went to the 9th Region tournament.

The other talented underclassmen in the lineup are sophomore forward Miyah Winzie and junior guards Elizabeth McCoy and Aleah Arlinghaus, who averaged 6.2 points and a team-high 4.7 assists last season. 

The only senior on coach Ted Arlinghaus’ roster is Hanna Robinson, a transfer student who averaged 10 points and 5.1 rebounds for Grant County last season. She and McCoy give the Indians a pair of capable 3-point shooters.


The young Conner team that lost six of its last nine games to finish 12-12 last season has four starters returning to make amends for that disappointing downturn. 

“If we bring the competitiveness to games that we have seen at practice the last month, we will be able to compete with most teams all year,” said coach Michelle Gambrel.

Sophomore point guard Anna Hamilton is a two-year varsity veteran who averaged 12 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season. She’ll be reunited with senior Lauren Hawthorn and juniors Kelsee Simpson and Juliet Strange in the starting lineup.

Hawthorn is a 6-foot forward who had matching 8.2 averages in points and rebounds last season. Gambrel said she had a “big summer that opened up opportunities to play at the next level.”


The only returning starters for the Bluebirds are senior Meg Gessner and junior Alyssa Harris, who had combined averages of 5.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game on last season’s 20-7 team that made it to the 9th Region semifinals.

“We are extremely young this year with only five juniors and seniors on the team,” said coach Jaime Richey. “We do have good height this year that will be an asset to us. I’m looking forward to seeing this team improve throughout the year.”

The other senior on the Highlands’ roster is Cecilia Shick. She did a good job on the boards during last year’s playoffs and ended up with the highest rebounding average (3.2) among the returning players.


The Thoroughbreds have one of the state’s top returning scorers in 6-foot senior forward Rylee Turner, who averaged 19.9 points and 9.3 rebounds last season when her team won the 9th Region All “A” Classic and posted a 12-11 record.

Turner was a double-figure scorer in every game and posted a double-double nine times. She also led the team in 3-point goals with 27. In her three-year varsity career, she has scored 1,191 points and snagged 706 rebounds.  

The other senior veterans on NewCath’s roster are Emily Heck and Ella Meyer. Coach Ralph Meyer is counting on freshman Caroline Eaglin to take over the point guard position for Annie Heck, the team’s senior floor leader last season.


Scott coach Steve Brown hopes the experience his players acquired over the last two injury-filled seasons pays dividends for the Eagles, who made it to the 10th Region tournament seven of the last eight years.

The first order of business will be developing a new offense after losing Mya Meredith and Sofia Allen to graduation. Those two players had a combined average of 36 points per game on last year’s 16-9 team that lost by one point in the region semifinals.

The top returning player is junior Madelyn Wilson, who averaged 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds. The Eagles will also have Ava Coleman, their best 3-point shooter, and Macy Campbell, a reliable floor leader and defensive player, back in their lineup.


Mark Clinkenbeard enters his final season as head coach of the Bearcats with four of the top six players returning from last year’s team that was All “A” Classic state runner-up and posted the program’s 10th consecutive winning record at 18-9.

The senior veterans are point guard Audrey Carrico, shooting guard Kylie Lay and center Maggie Buerger, a two-year starter who averaged 8.7 points and 5.3 rebounds last season.

The leading candidates for the other two starting positions are juniors Jenna Rodgers, Mckailia Hatton and Grace Brewer, who averaged 6.1 points and 4.1 rebounds as a part-time starter last year. 

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