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Could this be the year of the Dragons? For the first time in school history both the Dragons and lady Dragons basketball teams are ranked high in the preseason basketball polls. The Lady Dragons have been ranked No. 1 ahead of Simon Kenton and Anderson county while the Dragons have been tabbed as high as no. 3 with Shelby County and Anderson County considered the other two teams with the best chances to advance to the Sweet 16 in Rupp arena this March.
Last year: 13-15.
Key losses: Guards Drew Kraemer and Jacob Adams.
Who’s back: Eight seniors led by swingman Casey Jackson, point guard Austin Bowling, center Chris Schumm, guard Bryce Jewett and junior forward Carson Fields.
Outlook: With eight seniors the Dragons are a solid pick as one of three regional favorites with Shelby County and Anderson County this year.
Coach Steve Simpson enters his 10th season at SOHS with what could be his best team. Long known for their devastating three-point shooting, SOHS led the state in made three-pointers for the second year in a row last year, Simpson may have a better shooting team this season.
“At the two and three spots all of the guys can shoot the lights out,” Simpson said. “Add to that the guys at the other spots that can shoot and we should be very good on offense.”
Leading the pack of returnees is 6-foot-3 senior swingman Casey Jackson. Jackson averaged 16 points a game last year hitting over 40 percent from the three-point line and is poised on a breakout year where he could challenge for player of the year honors in the region.
“I think he (Jackson) can be player of the year,” Simpson said. “He is such a good shooter and now he is much better off the dribble. That makes his so much harder to guard.”
Running the show for SOHS is senior point guard Austin Bowling. The 5-foot-11 Bowling is a strong shooter is his own right and proved his pressure mettle last year in the district final win over North Oldham when he hit 12 of 14 free throws down the stretch.
Adding more backcourt depth is 6-foot-3 Bryce Jewett, who averaged 11 points a game as a sixth-man last season. At center is 6-foot-5 Chris Schumm, who added some strength.
“I can promise you there are many centers around who can go out and hit the three like he can,” Simpson said.
Also back inside is 6-foot-2 junior Carson Fields who started last season. Charlie Maleug and Trent Martin, both 6-foot-3, and 6-foot-5 Brennan Carrithers are expected to add inside depth while Dylan Gordon and Chris Dogan will help in the backcourt.
Season keys: For Simpson it all boils down to the Dragons’ ability to get much better on defense and be a more physical team in the paint if the program wants to make its first trip to the state tournament.
With Jackson, Bowling and Jewett in the backcourt, SOHS has three of the region’s best perimeter threats to lead the offense, how well they can defend the top teams like Shelby County and Anderson County will be the difference.
“Can we stop those kind of teams when we have to will be it,” Simpson said. “We can score with anyone we play. How well and how much better we get on defense is going to determine how far we go this year.”
Last year: 19-11.
Key losses: Guard Tyler St. Julien and center Dale Tingle.
Who’s back: Guard Alex Foley and center Devan Rowan.
Newcomers: Freshman guard David Levitch and Jacob Clark.
Outlook: The Mustangs continued to emerge as a regional contender last season winning 19 games before falling to regional champion Anderson County in the first round of the tournament.
In senior guard Alex Foley, NOHS has one of the top guns in the region. Foley, a three-year starter, averaged 17 points a game last season and is a deadly three-point shooter with a knack for hitting big shots in the clutch.
“He (Foley) has had a complete turnaround since this summer when he struggled some,” NOHS coach Danny Edelen said. “He is really playing at an unbelievable level right now and I think he will be the best player in the region. From a leadership standpoint, the switch has turned on for him.”
The Mustangs will also count on Devan Rowan. The 6-foot-7, 250-pound sophomore had a strong summer and saw significant varsity time last season. Edelen said he has the ability to be the best big man in the region.
“He must become an offensive threat for us this year,” Edelen said. “He can do just about anything he wants when he sets his mind to it.’
Aside from Foley and Rowan, NOHS will count on a cast of role players, some who have some varsity time and some entering the program for the first time.,
Leading the way is 6-foot sophomore swingman Jacob Clark.
“He had the best summer of any of our kids and really played himself into a top five spot on the team,” Edelen said.
Along with Clark, 6-foot-1 Max Steinfeld saw some varsity time last year and had several good games with his three-point shooting while battling nagging, minor injuries. Jon Clausen, a 5-foot-8 guard also saw time and is the best perimeter defender.
Joining Rowan inside with some experience are 6-foot-3, 285-pound senior Zach Lagrange, a football standout, and 6-foot senior Brad Menke. Edelen said Menke adds a level of toughness on the boards above his physical size. Lagrange has been the surprise of the preseason.
Edelen has also been pleased with several newcomers to the team, among them are 5-foot-8 freshman guard David Levitch and 6-foot-2 Nick Harley.
Levitch is an excellent shooter while Harley is coming out for the first year with a soft shooting touch around the basket.
Season keys: “This is the only year since I have been here I really don’t know what to expect,” Edelen said. “We have a lot of talent, but it is so very young and inexperienced. We see flashes of good things, but no consistency. That is what we are going to have to develop to compete in the region.”
Last year: 12-10.
Key losses: Point guard Eric Dunlap.
Who’s back: Guards Brandon Cook, Kiley Obradovich, Blake Payne and forward Dylan Sims.
Newcomers: Guards Kerry Smith and Alante Flores and forward Tyler Wesley.
Outlook: A new era begins in OCHS basketball as Jason Holland takes over as coach after the retirement of 21-year veteran Gary Forrest.
Holland inherits a young, athletic team that must adjust to his system and personality.
“To be honest, they have picked up on some things very quickly and struggled with some others,” Holland said. “Our big thing is we want to be a better team in February.”
The Colonels must replace four-year starter and three-time all-region point guard Eric Dunlap, but have four players back in guards Brandon Cook, Kiley Obradovich, Blake Payne and forward Dylan Sims who started at one time or another last season.
Holland is excited about his younger players most notably 6-foot-2 sophomore guard Kerry Smith, who many consider the best sophomore in the region. An ultra-quick slasher, Smith was a key reserve for the Colonels by the end of last season.
“We had a scrimmage against Conner and in the first half he didn’t score a point, but he had dominated the game,” Holland said. “He broke their press and created opportunities for his teammates. When he learns when to stop and shoot and when to pass, which is hard for a high school kid, he is going to be a very special player.”
Another sophomore Holland is counting on is 6-foot Alante Flores.
“We have been very impressed with him,” Holland said. “He still has sophomore moments, but he can create his own shot and make things happen.”
They will join Cook and Obradovich, a pair of 5-foot-11 seniors in the backcourt along with Parker Simpson.
Up front, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Sims returns after fighting through some injuries last season. Like Cook and Obradovich, he just came out for basketball after playing football.
Inside are 6-foot-4 bookends in Nolan Denise and Tyler Wesley.
“They can both go out on the floor and hit a three so that is going to be an advantage for us,” Holland said.
The Colonels will push the ball offensively when they can as well as spread the floor to take advantage of the their athleticism.
OCHS will also keep the tempo fast and physical on defense.
“They have picked up the defensive scheme pretty good,” Holland said. “We’re going to press a lot and try to force things. Our man-to-man has also been very good so far.”
Season keys: “It’s going to be an ongoing growing process for us this year,” Holland said. “These kids just have not had a lot of time to play together yet. Our main goal is just to get better every day.”
Last year: 18-12.
Key losses: Brittany Shaver and Chelsea Williams.
Who’s back: Senior guard Jordann McGuffin, sophomore guard Jasmine Whitfield and sophomore forward Mary Dye.
Outlook: With their depth, senior guard Jordann McGuffin and a bevy of young talent, the Lady Dragons have been tabbed as the regional favorite in the preseason.
“It’s a new role for us, but it’s like saying there is 1A, 1B and 1C in the region because there is more parity out there then there has been in recent years,” SOHS coach Frank Wright said. “There’s a lot of young potential on a lot of teams including us. Not a lot of seniors or juniors, but a whole lot of sophomores and freshmen. It’s so wide open, so unpredictable. Getting recognized now means nothing. He who laughs last always laughs best.”
The 5-foot-7 McGuffin along with 5-foot-8 senior forward Vicki Bray will lead the Lady Dragons’ young talent. McGuffin enters her third year as a starter as a regional player of the year candidate. She averaged 11 points a game last season and can run the point or play off guard.
“I think Jordann is worthy of some attention,” Wright said. “She is a very solid guard.”
Bray is one of the team’s best defenders and a scoring alternative when SOHS has its running game going.
They are joined by returning starters Jasmine Whitfield and Mary Dye, both sophomores. The 5-foot-10 Whitfield joins McGuffin to give the Lady Dragons perhaps the region’s best guard tandem while the 5-foot-11 Dye averaged nearly six rebounds a game inside for SOHS and is another defensive stalwart for the Lady Dragons who had one of the best defensive averages in the state last year giving up just 42 points a game.
They will be joined by junior Brooke Haysley and sophomores Emily Housely, Maddie Wright and Lissa Gamsky.
While McGuffin and Whitfield are proven scorers, Wright said this year’s team will likely have to rely on balance.
‘Whatever we do, we will be doing it by committee,” he said.
With no true center, the Lady Dragons are likely to employ a more varied defensive look this season. The lack of that inside presence is a concern for Wright.
“It takes an option away from us,” Wright said. “We will have to make things happen with our quickness. If we get in a half-court pushing match, we might not be able to push back.”
On offense, Wright said the Lady Dragons will need to be able to execute much better than they did last season.
“We have to learn on those days when everything is not going well to be able to fight through that,” Wright said. “I don’t think we have a team identity right now. There is going to be a lot of on the job training this year.”
Season keys: “We’re going to have to be able to dictate what people do whether we are in a zone, man or pressing,” Wright said. “That may mean giving up more possessions which means we may have to score more, but we are not physical enough to let the other team decide how they want to play.”
Last year: 8-20.
Key losses: Erin Overcash and Allison Olive.
Who’s back: Guards Olivia Raffli and Nicole Bryant.
Newcomers: Sophomore point guard Megan Welle, freshman guard Kaylee McCarthy and freshman swingman Taylor Moore.
Outlook: The Lady Mustangs are looking to improve this year and coach Nancy Martin thinks she has the personnel to do it.
Senior point guard Olivia Raffli returns as does sophomore swingman Nicole Bryant. Raffli, a 5-foot-7 senior averaged 10 points a game last year and gives the Lady Mustangs plenty of experience in the backcourt. The 5-foot-10 Bryant emerged as one of the region’s top freshmen last season averaging 13 points and seven rebounds a game.
“With Oliva and Nicole we should be very strong in the back this year,” Martin said. “They can both play and handle the ball.”
Bryant will be counted on to take a different role this year as the NOHS staff is working to improve her inside game.
“In my opinion she can be a better player inside than out just based on her athletic ability,” Martin said. “Once she believes that, she will be so much better.”
Bryant’s ability to improve inside will be key for NOHS as they will need depth and her size. Jessica Lowe, a 5-foot-10 forward join’s Bryant as the team’s tallest player. Lowe gained some valuable varsity time last year and is a strong rebounder. Joining her inside are 5-foot-8 senior Amanda Mattern and 5-foot-9 forward Lucy Gibson. Both Mattern and Gibson saw varsity time last year.
The Lady Mustangs’ depth will like come from youth in sophomore guard Megan Welle who has had one of the team’s strongest preseasons according to Martin. A pair of freshmen, 5-foot-9 Taylor Moore and guard Kaylee McCarthy are both showing signs of being help at the varsity level in the preseason.
Martin said the Lady Mustangs will continue last year’s trend of an fast paced offense with Raffli and Bryant pushing the ball.
“The kids have really bought into the system this year,” Martin said. “We’re going to try and turn it up a notch more this year. Again, the one weakness we have is our depth. If they young ones come along we could fix that.”
Martin said the Lady Mustangs want to ramp things up a bit on defense with more full court pressing and pressure through their man-to-man sets.
“We are going to try and press more and that plays into this team’s personality,” Martin said. “Our overall mental toughness and on the floor toughness is much better. They get on the floor after loose balls and really enjoy playing hard.”
Season keys: Raffli and Bryant must carry a heavy load of scoring early as the younger players find their roles and develop.
The Lady Mustangs must develop confidence in the system and themselves.
“Staying injury free is going to be big for us,” Martin said. “If we can get a couple of wins early and get some confidence it will be big. I am really excited about this group. We have the schedule we need and the girls have really bought into what we are trying to do and they are a close group that enjoys being around each other.”
Last year: 13-16.
Key losses: Guard Audri Beaudrie.
Who’s back: Emily Lape, Leah Pehlke, Brooke Leanhart, Emily Melton and Ericka Hardin.
Newcomers: Jessica Leanhart, Shelby Rush, Ashley McMurtrey and Katie Bivens.
Outlook: With a new coach and a new style the Lady Colonels are looking to continue last year’s late season charge they made under Coach Larry Just. Just, who left for the Butler job, returned the team to respectability last season as OCHS made it to the regional semis where they fell to champion Simon Kenton.
New coach Steve Mullins has brought in a fast-paced read and react offensive style with a pressing defense to take advantage of the four returning starters and sixth-man back this year.
“We’re going to be up-tempo definitely at both ends of the court,” Mullins said. “So far the girls have been unbelievably good. They have really bought in to the system.”
OCHS returns all-region forward Emily Lape along with guards Ericka Hardin, Brooke Leanhart and forward Leah Pehlke from last year’s starting lineup. The 5-foot-9 Lape averaged 13 points and eight rebounds a game last season while Hardin hit for eight points.
Sixth-man Emily Melton, a 5-foot-6 junior and the team’s top three-point threat is also back. Melton has been one of the quickest to adapt to the new offense.
“Emily has been shooting the light out,” Mullins said. “This offense is geared to her talents.”
In the new look, all five players are guards with a lot of cutting or shooting threes which has benefitted the shooting of Hardin and Brooke Leanhart and Lape’s ability to move without the ball.
“If we do it right it’s all three-pointers or open layups,” Mullins said.
Defensively Mullins said the Lady Colonels will press all over the court either full-court or half-court traps.
“Much of what we do defensively is modeled after what Mercy does,” Mullins said. “Mark Evans (Mercy’s head coach and former head coach at OCHS) is a mentor of mine and we are going to try and force turnovers with defense and keep the game as fast as we can.”
To add depth and aid the defensive pressure are freshman Jessica Leanhart, Shelby Rush and eighth-grader Ashley McMurtrey.
“When those three come into the game it’s been like we have 10 people out on the floor,” Mullins said. “They are everywhere on the court. They have really stood out on the defensive end.”
Another player who will add depth is first-year player Katie Bivens who Mullins said would be a big help before the season ends.
“I have told them to play this style we need eight to 10 players rotating in and out and they all want to get the playing time that this style offers them,” Mullins said.
Season keys: Adapting to the fast-paced style and being able to go at top speed for four quarters will determine the wins and losses.
“I think if they continue to buy into the system and play as hard as they have been playing we can be successful,” Mullins said. “Right now they are all playing extremely hard and if they continue that we will be fine.”