8th Region, 32nd District boys hoops preview: Walton-Verona, Simon Kenton have high hopes

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For the most part in the current 32nd District that formed in 2005, it’s been either the Simon Kenton Pioneers or the Walton-Verona Bearcats battling for the district tournament championship.

But the two met in the district semifinals last year after Grant County earned the top seed. Host Walton-Verona edged Simon Kenton, 69-66 in that round before besting Grant County, 83-67 to win the district championship for the first time since 2019. Grant County could be a factor again this year.

Walton-Verona Bearcats

The Bearcats finished 19-11, losing 79-46 to North Oldham in the first round of the 8th Region tournament last season. That marked the final game for seven seniors including three starters, Cam Christy, Brant Smithers and Ethan Gutman. Christy is playing at Mount Saint Joseph in Cincinnati and Smithers took his talents to West Virginia Tech.

The two returning starters are junior guard Julian Dixon and senior guard/forward Carter Krohman. Krohman averaged 12 points per game last year with Dixon averaging 8.4 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds per game.

Beyond those two, junior guards Max Montgomery and Landon Bach, and sophomore guard Aaron Gutman played in at least 21 varsity games last year. Senior guard Conner Gregory and two junior guards, Zach Smith and Noah Young, are also looking to contribute.

Walton-Verona Head Coach Mike Hester said four or five guys are capable of scoring in double figures.

“To be honest, I feel the younger guys from last year have developed to fill in the roles of the guys we miss,” Krohman said. “I feel like we can be as balanced as we were if not better than last year. I feel like our team has a very good balance between coaches and players. They help get us to where we want to be.”

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The Bearcats played a five-out motion offense trying to stretch the floor with a goal of shooting 45 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. They play a man-to-man defense.

“It’s a process because obviously, we have a lot of guys who are new,” Hester said. “But the good thing for us is these are all guys who have played together growing up so the chemistry is there. It’s just now they have to figure out how to play the way we want to play – sharing the basketball, one extra pass, everything that we do. Early on, we had some bumps. But with less than a week to go before the start of our season, I like where we’re at.”

The Bearcats play host to Beechwood on Nov. 28. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Simon Kenton junior guard Travis Krohman (left) gets in defensive position during the district semifinal game at Walton-Verona last year. Krohman returns after leading the Pioneers averaging 11.9 points per game last year. Photo provided | Marc Figgins

Simon Kenton Pioneers

Simon Kenton missed out on the 8th Region tournament for the first time since 2017 with that loss at Walton-Verona in the district tournament. The Pioneers had won district championships in 2020 and 2021.

The Pioneers graduated five seniors including three starters but return two starters, including 7’3″ center/forward Gabe Dynes, a Youngstown State commit, and junior 6’1″ guard Travis Krohman. Krohman led the Pioneers averaging 11.9 points per game last year and Dynes averaged 7.4 points and a team-high seven rebounds per game. Dynes said a big challenge for his teammates is learning to throw lob passes to him after mostly throwing chest and bounce passes growing up.

“I would say the biggest thing we have to do is work better as a team,” Dynes said. “I think we’re on our way to that. There’s nothing else to it other than practicing. We spend almost the whole day with each other at school then two hours of practice after school.”

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Senior 6’2″ guard Isaac Gabbard and senior 6’2″ center/forward Josh Bowling return after receiving significant varsity experience last year. Other players looking to contribute are senior 6’2″ forward Logan Crisp, junior 6′ guard Miles Brown, sophomore point guard Jay Bilton, junior forward Michael Johnson, and 6’2″ sophomore forward Brayden Polly.

“Normally, the team takes the demeanor of your point guard,” said Trent Steiner, Simon Kenton head coach. “With (Bilton), I just love his poise. Nothing bothers him and a lot of our kids are feeding off that. He’s never too high or too low. That’s a lot of praise for a sophomore. Our schedule this year doesn’t allow us not to be ready for any moments. Our schedule this year is unbelievable.”

The Pioneers open the season Nov. 29 against Covington Catholic. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

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