Here is our pre-season preview of the 9th Region, 35th District girls basketball teams:
Notre Dame Pandas
The Notre Dame Pandas have won four consecutive district championships since Kes Murphy took the job in 2018, after leading Holy Cross to the 2015 state championship.
Last year, the Pandas had their eyes on a regional title after falling in the 9th Region championship the year before. But Notre Dame was downed by Ryle in the regional quarterfinals.
The Pandas graduated seven seniors from last year returning just one starter, senior 5-11 forward Noelle Hubert. The Northern Kentucky University signee averaged 12.9 points per game last year. Notre Dame also returns two sophomores with extensive varsity experience, 6-4 center Sophia Gibson and 5-11 guard Maya Lawrie.
Murphy noted a number of the players play with club teams such as Kentucky Premier. Four juniors could contribute, 5-11 forward Kendra Collins, forward Alli Magary, center Julia Meyers, and guard Rosemary Miller. Three other sophomore guards that could make an impact are Tori Lenihan, Riley Robertson, and Georgi Kirtley, who transferred from Illinois.
“I think it’s easier, especially when they get pulled up at the end of the underclassmen years,” Hubert said of having a system in place. “They can see how everything works and how we do our stuff. (Coach Murphy) is expecting a lot from us.”
The Pandas plan to use multiple defenses to keep opponents guessing, and using their length. Murphy said they will run a lot of four and five-out looks offensively.
“We’re in a different position. We’ve lost a lot of experience,” Murphy said. “However, what we’ve gained is a lot of kids that will play at the next level. So our ceiling with this group, although sophomores, is high and their basketball IQs are very high as well. Not to say that our group last year wasn’t that way. But a lot of them are getting college looks now so that’s a big deal. A lot of them have waited their turn. They’re hungry and not complacent. I felt like last year, there were times when we were complacent. If we stay healthy, it will be nice to see what this group can do.”
The Pandas open the season against Newport Central Catholic on Nov. 29. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Holy Cross Indians
The Indians return dynamic 6-2 junior center/forward Julia Hunt, a University of Washington volleyball commit, who averaged 16 points and 10.9 rebounds last year for Holy Cross.
This year’s team knows it can have a special season if other players around her rise up and force opponents to defend her one-on-one in the post. The Indians finished 19-14 last year losing 59-46 to Cooper in the regional quarterfinals. Holy Cross graduated just one senior, Hanna Robinson, who averaged 10.7 points per game.
Holy Cross scrimmaged Ohio power Mount Notre Dame at Ryle and learned what to do and what not to do against a team that employs full-court pressure.
“We’re still trying to figure out roles out so playing a team like Mount Notre Dame will help us learn,” said Ted Arlinghaus, Holy Cross head coach. “I’m not worried about a score. I just want to learn what need to work at.”
The other three returning starters are junior forward/guard Miyah Wimzie, and senior guards Aleah Arlinghaus and Elizabeth McCoy. T
hey are hoping to help improve outside shooting. Holy Cross made 685 of 1759 shots for 39 percent including 190 of 718 three-point tries for 27 percent.
“I’ve been trying to shoot more because the more I shoot, the more it opens up other players and I ended up hitting,” Aleah Arlinghaus said. “One thing I struggle with is passing it too much and not shooting it when I should shoot it. We’re subbing more this year so we could be really good. We have to get confidence first.”
Three transfers could help take pressure off Hunt: senior center/forward Nejai Lewis and junior forward/guard Aaliyah Hayes arrived from Holmes, and sophomore guard Aniyah Carter came from Lloyd Memorial. Lewis averaged 15 points per game for the Bulldogs.
Three other players are looking to make an impact: senior forward/guard Sarah Bottom, sophomore forward/guard Aumani Nelson, and eighth grade forward DMyah Williams.
Holy Cross opens the season Nov. 30 at Lloyd Memorial. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Isaac Speicher took over the program knowing the challenge ahead. The Tigers last had a winning season of 14-12 during the 2013-14 season and have not been to the regional tournament since 1999.
The Tigers have won 10 games in each of the past two seasons including a 10-21 mark in Speicher’s first season last year, losing 61-19 to Notre Dame in the district semifinals to conclude the season. The Tigers graduated three seniors including post/wing Alison Owen, who led the Tigers with nine rebounds and 8.9 points per game.
Beechwood returns five players with extensive varsity experience, including their two leading scorers, senior guard/wing Maya Reis and junior all-around Riley Boyd, who averaged 8.9 and 7.3 points per game last year.
Beechwood plays host to St. Patrick to open the season Nov. 28. Game time is 6 p.m.
The graduation of five seniors and four players not returning has left the Bulldogs young for first-year head coach Tracy Pope. They finished 10-18 last year losing 65-39 to Holy Cross in the district semifinals.
Eighth grader Amarianna Cook will play the point guard role. Pope gave nods to two sophomores who saw some varsity action last year, forward Tasha Cole and guard La’Tia White.
“I think it just starts with having fun,” Pope said. “You have to make sure we’re having fun first because if basketball isn’t fun, you’re not going to get any buy-in or things like that. We’re using that fun to come together as a team. After we know what it takes to have fun, we can get the discipline and everything together.”
Holmes opens the season Nov. 28 at home against Boone County at 7:30 p.m. Boone County head coach Todd Humphrey is Pope’s cousin.
Covington Latin Trojans
The Trojans did not have a team last year but this year’s roster lists 14 players including one senior, Marielle Gearding, for new head coach Matt Juelg.
Latin opens the season Dec. 2 at home against Lexington Christian. Game time is 6 p.m.