Last season, the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds edged the Highlands Bluebirds, 51-48 at Bellevue’s Ben Flora Gymnasium to take back the district crown after the Bluebirds had won it the previous seven years.
The two could battle for the district title again this year. The last time neither team won the district title came in 2006 when Newport won it. Here’s how things could shake out this year.
The Bluebirds struggled to 12-17 last year, after nine straight season of 20 or more wins. Highlands graduated two seniors, guard Meg Gessner and center C.C. Shick, who are playing soccer and volleyball in college, respectively. Junior guard Laney Smith also decided not to come out this year after receiving an offer to play soccer at the University of Cincinnati.
But Highlands returns a good number of young players who saw varsity experience last year. Sophomore 6-foot-2-inch center Marissa Green emerged as one of the top centers in the region, averaging 14 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Veteran Highlands Head Coach Jaime Walz-Richey said Green must receive a lot of touches for the Bluebirds to be successful.
“They have to continue to build on that,” Walz said. “I don’t expect to see the same mistakes that they made last year. They’re a year older and mature enough now. Getting that varsity time at a young age should be a benefit from there. They should see the court better and things like that.”
The key is improved outside play for the Bluebirds. A healthy fourth-year senior starting point guard Alyssa Harris is a good start. Junior forward Kasey Gross, sophomore guards Ellie Mohr and Adrienne Harris, along with freshmen forwards Katie Bucher and Natalie Hinegardner saw action in at least 19 games last year. Junior forward Amaya Barton and others hope to also step forward this year.
“I think the good thing this year is we’re not entirely focused on Marissa (Green),” Alyssa Harris said. “Obviously, her height is a good thing. We’re all learning to take care of the ball ourselves then feeding it to her when she’s open. I think being dynamic is good for our team. The younger players are gaining more confidence.”
Highlands opens the season Nov. 29 at home against Dixie Heights. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds
The Thoroughbreds put up a 22-11 record and won their first 9th Region quarterfinal game since 2015 before losing to Ryle in the semifinals.
NewCath needs to overcome the graduation of six seniors including the 9th Region Player of the Year, Rylee Turner. Turner took her talents to defending National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics champion Thomas More University after averaging 26.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.
The Thoroughbreds return two starting guards, sophomore guard Caroline Eaglin and senior Joelle Kinnett. Eaglin averaged 12 points per game last year.
“I need to be strong with the basketball, take it to the rim and score,” Eaglin said. “It’s about being smart with the ball. I need to get the ball to my teammates and not let turnovers happen. It’s going to be important because we don’t really have big numbers this year.”
Twin sisters, sophomore forwards Jaylee and Katelyn Brannen saw a good amount of varsity action last year. The other senior on the roster is forward Natalie Haigis. Junior guard Delany Green also saw significant action last year and junio forward Kori Reckers could give NewCath a post presence.
“Caroline will be looked to lead the team from the point guard position,” said Ralph Meyer, NewCath head coach. “At this point, we’re just trying to work in some players that lacked varsity experience from last year to gain confidence early on and get them worked into the system.”
Meyer listed four other players hoping to contribute this year, sophomore guard Maddy McFarland, and three eighth graders, guard Kendall Thompson, Brooklyn Cole and forward Alaina Albrinck.
NewCath plays host to Notre Dame on Nov. 29. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Beau Menefee took over a two-win program in 2020. The Wildcats took huge strides last year improving from 8-8 to 18-9 last year, losing 69-37 to Newport Central Catholic in the district semifinals.
Three seniors graduated from last year’s team but the top five scorers return from last year led by senior Elexis Litton and junior DeAyjah White. The duo averaged 15.4 and 11.5 points per game.
Newport opens the season in its Donna Murphy Classic on Friday, Dec. 2 against Villa Madonna. Game time is 5 p.m.
Bellevue finished 16-12 last year and earned the second seed in the 36th District Tournament with a win over Highlands during the regular season. But the Bluebirds came back to beat the Tigers, 60-39 in the district semifinals to end Bellevue’s season.
The Tigers graduated three seniors last year including leading scorer Deja Joseph, who averaged 10.3 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. Bellevue returns three starters, guards Sydni Massey and Jaylah Dowell, and forward Jayda Dowell.
“We do have some big shoes to fill in the post area, but I have full confidence we will be able to do that,” said Tommy Sorrell, Bellevue head coach. “We also started three freshmen last season along with freshmen coming in off the bench. We are hoping the experience everyone gained last year will help tremendously since our roster is still fairly young.”
Sorrell said the staff is looking at five players to step into roles, sophomore forward Paulina Long, sophomore guard Ally Macpherson, sophomore guard Taytem Sorrell, sophomore forward Courtney McCarty, and freshman Hayleigh Wright.
The Tigers open the season Nov. 29 at Henry County. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Dayton finished 8-19 last year losing 59-39 to Newport in the first round of the district tournament with no seniors and two juniors.
Eight players who played in at least 21 games last year return including their leading scorer, junior guard Lacey Holt, and two seniors guards, Gabbrielle Leger and Allison Plageman.
Dayton opens the season Monday, Nov. 28 at Augusta. Game time is 7:30 p.m.