1. Who is the best player in the area?
There are a number of worthy candidates in the area that enter this debate, but one that stands out that made the biggest impact last year was Ottawa-Glandorf’s Kadie Hempfling. As a sophomore, the Titan hoopster was the Western Buckeye League player of the year, received all-NWC honors and was a second team Division II All-Ohio selection. She averaged 13.7 points a game and seven rebounds and was on a team that reached the state finals.
Others to keep an eye on are Columbus Grove’s Jade Clement, Lima Central Catholic’s Madison Stolly, Leipsic’s Brooke Gerderman and Heather Lammers and Upper Scioto Valley’s Emily Patton.
2. How does Lima Senior replace Rion Thompson, now at Bowling Green, and Essence Cowan, now at Owens Community College? Both scored 1,000 points, and Thompson was the all-time leading scorer at Lima Senior.
It won’t be easy, as two returning starters and eight returning letterwinners return from last year’s squad that finished 15-9 last year. Senior Kierre James, the point guard who averaged 9.3 points, 4 assists and 5 rebounds a game, is back, but the Spartans will look to young players such as sophomore Destiny McDonald, who averaged 5 points, 2 rebounds and 2 steals, and sophomores Talor Washington and Taja Oglesbee.
3. Can LCC find some scoring to go around LCC’s all-time leading scorer, Madison Stolly?
The talented T-Bird, who recently signed a letter of intent to play at the University of Findlay and was an honorable All-State selection, will need some help if LCC is going to have a successful season and a long run in the postseason for the T-Birds, who lost in the sectional finals last year.
Senior Sam Koenig is LCC’s other returning starter and should add some scoring punch along. Returning letterwinners senior Emma Baumgartner and sophomore Josie Moehler will need to step up their game. Also coming into the fold and expected to make a contribution are freshmen Janae Robinson and Rosie Williams.
4. Can Bath rally to the top of the league after losing its first Western Buckeye League game in ages last year?
For years, the Wildcats had dominated WBL, but that came to an end last year when the Wildcats slipped to 14-10 overall and 6-3 in the WBL. The Wildcats lost one senior from last year, albeit a first-team All-WBL performer in Brittanie Ulmer, but they boast three seniors on this year’s roster, including Bailey Dackin, Heidi Craddock and Haley Garland. Also on the squad is junior Jaidyn Hale, who was a third team All-WBL selection as a sophomore.
5. Who is the team to beat in the Western Buckeye League?
Ottawa-Glandorf won the league crown with an 8-1 record, with Wapakoneta in second with a 7-2 record and three teams finishing with 6-3 record.
While the Titans return three starters from last year’s squad and appear to be the odds-on favorite to repeat, they will be tested by a number of teams that are hungry to dethrone the Titans.
With three returning starters in Hempfling, Kylie White and Lexi Schroeder, the Titans are poised to have another big year on the hardwood. The Titans will have to deal with the loss of Dani Ellerbrock, a second-team All-WBL performer. But the state-runner ups have a wealth of talent that should be a serious contender to return to Columbus.
Wapakoneta returns senior Megan Fisher, a second-team All-WBL selection but were hurt by the loss of two all-league performers.The Redskins return seven letterwinners overall, and they will look to some of these girls to step up and fill the void left by the graduating seniors.
Kenton will also be in the mix. The Wildcats return seven letterwinners and five starters that won 15 games and finished tied for third in the league with a 6-3 mark. Senior Ashley Morris, a first-team, all-league player, junior Ellie Martin, a second-team, all-WBL player and junior Layne Taylor, a third-team, all-league selection, are back for the Wildcats.
Elida could make things interesting. Despite the Bulldogs finishing with a 1-8 mark in the WBL last year, they return seven letterwinners and three starters, including talented junior Shyah Wheeler.
Shawnee returns seven letterwinners but is still growing as a team. Look to DeAsia Smith, Dionna Lewis and Kinsey Heistan to provide senior leadership.
6. Who is the favorite in the Northwest Conference?
Columbus Grove captured the the league with a perfect 8-0 record, with Crestview taking second at 7-1 and Bluffton in third at 6-2. Grove lost five seniors from last year’s squad, but back to lead the Bulldogs is first team All-NWC selection Jade Clement, who averaged 16.3 points a game. Along with Clement, a trio of senior returning letterwinners, Grace Schroeder, Hallie Malsam and Macy Cluer, and junior Pagie Bellman, make the Bulldogs a tough team to beat this year.
They will be tested by Bluffton’s talented squad that features senior Abbie Parkins, a second-team all-league member last year, and sophomore teammate Alivia Koenig. However, the Pirates have just one senior on the squad and no juniors, so the young starters are going to have to adjust to life at the varsity level on the fly.
Never count out perennial powerhouse Crestview and dark horses Ada or Spencerville. The Knights have just one senior, Ashley Dealy, but four juniors, Paige Motycka, Lyvia Black, Alysaa Gent and Ally McCoy, providing some stability to the lineup.
7. Who else in the area could make a run to state?
Ottoville is always in the mix when it comes to talking about teams with the talent and tradition to make it to state. The Big Green is coming off a 23-2 season but ended its season in a heartbreaking contest against Arlington in the district finals. Expect Ottoville to make a significant run with the solid corps of players such as Brooke Mangas, a three-year starter and first-team, all-league selection, Alicia Honigford, a second-team All-PCL performer and Bridget Landin, a first team, All-PCL selection and Madision Knodell, a two-year letter winner.
8. Who is the favorite in the PCL?
Ottoville has the inside track on the PCL title.
Kalida finished 5-2 in the league last year but must replace its starting lineup and has four players with limited varsity experience. The Wildcats will need a lot of their younger talent to step up if they are going to vie for a conference crown.
Leipsic returns six letterwinners from a team that went 15-10 last year and 3-4 in the competitive PCL and lost in the district semifinals to Ottoville. Back for Leipsic are Heather Lammers, a second-team All-PCL performer, who averaged 12.8 points a game and Brooke Gerderman, an honorable mention pick in the PCL and a third-team Blanchard Valley performer who averaged 10.3 points per game and 7.3 rebounds a contest.
Don’t sleep on Pandora-Gilboa, which returns six letterwinners from last year, or Fort Jennings. In other words, it will be another highly competitive year in the PCL.
9. Can Upper Scioto Valley repeat as Northwest Central Conference champions?
The Rams took home the league crown with a perfect 6-0 record and an 18-7 overall. USV is led by NWCC player of the year Emily Patton, who recently signed a letter of intent to play basketball for the St. Joseph’s University in Indiana. Also returning for the Rams are Shelby Spradlin, a first-team all-NWCC selection, and returning letterwinners Kaycee Carroll, Callie Daniels and Haley Hunsicker.
Ridgemont could surprise some teams this year and be in the mix. The Golden Gophers return four starters back from last year’s squad that finished 11-12 and 3-4 in league action. The quartet of starters back are Pricilla Howland, Meadow Cromer, Shauna Richardson and Faith Jenkins.
Riverside, Lehman Catholic and Waynesfield-Goshen will all be looking to bump off the Rams.
10. Can Delphos St. John’s make an impact in the Midwest Athletic Conference?
With powerhouse teams like Minster, Fort Recovery, New Bremen and New Knoxville, the MAC is a one of the toughest conferences in the area. Delphos St. John’s, which finished 4-5 in the MAC and 14-10 overall, is looking to vie for the conference title with three starters back, including senior starters Jessica Geise and Madilynn Schulte, along with sophomore Hayleigh Bacome. The Blue Jays will need some of their younger players to step up if they expect to battle with the big girls in the MAC.
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468.