35th District boys basketball preview: CovCath once again team to beat

G. Michael Graham
G. Michael Graham
Mike Graham covers sports for LINK nky

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The Covington Catholic Colonels have come into the season as not only 35th District favorites, but also 9th Region favorites a good bit since 2014.

That may not be the case this year. But the Colonels still plan on having a say in that by the end of the season.

Since head coach Scott Ruthsatz took over the program in 2011, CovCath has gone 355-78 with nine 35th District championships, six 9th Region crowns and state championships in 2014 and 2018. The Colonels have won the last four district championships and eight of the last nine.

Cooper beat CovCath, 57-54 in the region semifinals last year. The Colonels did not play for a region championship for just the third time since Ruthsatz’ first season in 2011-2012.

Covington Catholic Colonels (27-5 last season)

The Colonels graduated nine seniors off last year’s team including two of the top three scoring leaders in Evan Ipsaro and Kascyl McGillis. Ipsaro averaged 25.2 points per game and is playing at Miami (Ohio) University.

But CovCath does return two starters in senior guard Brady Hussey and sophomore guard Athens McGillis. Hussey averaged 12.5 points per game last year and McGillis averaged 4.9.

The Colonels did not have the dominant post presence they’ve had in the past last year, but that looks to change this year with the addition of 6-9, 210-pound senior Caden Miller. Miller is a four-star recruit that transferred in from Bentonville, Arkansas. Miller earned Arkansas’ second-largest Class 6A West Defensive Player of the Year honors and a spot on the 6A West All-Conference and 6A All-State First teams. Miller holds interest from the University of Cincinnati, University of Arkansas and Xavier University.

“Evan dominated most of our offense last year,” Ruthsatz said. “This year, we’re looking at Caden in the post. We’re cognizant of trying to get it in the post with his size and athleticism and playing off him a little bit more. You have to surround (good posts) with shooters. Only time will tell who are four best shooters are. Most likely toward the end of the year, they’re the ones who will be on the court and we’ll see what happens.”

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CovCath has a number of players looking to step into big roles. That includes three juniors in guard Dylan Lanham, guard Nolan Ruthsatz and forward Jake Stewart.

“That’s definitely a big role to take over,” Hussey said. “Leadership always leads to wins. If you want to make a long run, win region and go to state, leadership is the biggest thing. Caden, myself and the other seniors definitely have that right now so we’re going to do that and keep being vocal.”

Ruthsatz did list one unique challenge for the season in the fact the Colonels are waiting on five players from CovCath’s undefeated football team that look to be key contributers unlike one or two in the past. They are senior forward Noah Johnson, junior forward Tate Kruer and three sophomores in forward Donovan Bradshaw and two guards Cash Harney and Dylan Gaiser.

Harney and sophomore forward Logan Wermuth transferred in from Beechwood. Harney averaged 15 points per game for the Tigers last year.

“The standard doesn’t change,” Ruthsatz said. “You got new pieces and we have to learn to manipulate those pieces to give us the best chance to win. It’s going to be a whole different type of team once we get (the football players). I loved what we did over the summer when we had them. We had great depth and great guard play. Athens and Cash can both handle the ball and run the show.”

The Colonels like to pressure the ball defensively and run a motion offense in the half-court. They were efficient on the offensive end, hitting 50% of their shots from the field last season, but will want to improve on the 33% from 3-point range. They were steady at the free throw line at 79%.

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CovCath opens the season Nov. 27 at home against Simon Kenton at 7:30 p.m.

Holy Cross Indians (21-8)

The Indians finished All “A” State runner-up led by two dynamic scorers in Jacob Meyer and Javier Ward and won 21 games before suffering an upset to Beechwood in the district semifinals to end their season. They averaged 36.8 and 17.8 points per game, respectively. Meyer took his talents to Coastal Carolina University.

Four other seniors graduated, including 7-foot center Sam Gibson. Casey Sorrell also stepped down and former Holmes standout and Ohio University player Ricardo Johnson took over.

The two leading returning scorers are senior guard Luke Arlinghaus and forward Carson Reinersman. Johnson listed a number of others who could step into big roles including sophomore forward Nate Rominger, junior guard Jonah Crail, sophomore guards Brady Gabbard, Jackson Houston, Essex Adams, Aiden Urlage and freshman guard Micah Feldman. Max Hunt, a 6-foot-3 freshman, could give the Indians solid minutes in the post.

“I really like our balance,” Johnson said. “We’re young, which means the future is bright. Everyone has goals. But the work you put in behind the scenes gets you where you want to go.”

The Indians hope to continue to shoot the ball well. They hit a 50% clip from the field, 35% from three and 70% from the free throw line.

Holy Cross opens the season Nov. 29 against the home school Cincinnati Trailblazers at 7:30 p.m.

Beechwood Tigers (11-20)

Long-time head coach Erik Goetz retired in the offseason, but the Tigers do not have to get used to a new face as head coach as Beechwood promoted five-year associate head coach Ross Hart to the head coaches seat.

The Tigers were the Cinderella story last year in making the 9th Region Tournament, stunning Holy Cross 67-64 in the district semifinals. They graduated four seniors from that team including their leading scorer in Cameron Boyd at 19.4 points per game.

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The leading returning scorer is junior shooting guard Jack Sullivan at 8.1 points per game last year. Hart said the team is looking at junior guard Carson Blackburn, senior point guard Quinn Eviston, senior forward Rett Dawson and junior center Austin Navin to fill in big roles. The Tigers also hope to see freshman guard Tyler Fryman and sophomore shooting guard Owen McCormack give some depth.

The Tigers hope to play a mixture of offenses and defenses to improve on last year, especially on defense.

“We’re going to try to play up-tempo as long as we take care of turnovers and our decision-making allows us to,” Hart said. “We’re not very big so we’re playing with an underdog mentality. We have an inexperienced, but hungry group.”

An area of strength for the Tigers last season was at the free throw line, knocking down 76% of their attempts.

Beechwood opens the season at Grant County on Nov. 27 at 7:30 p.m.

Holmes Bulldogs (3-22)

The Bulldogs graduated seven seniors off the team including their second-leading scorer in Miguel Garcia at 8.6 points per game and Curtez Hill. But freshman Mark McCutchin emerged last season and led Holmes averaging nine points per game. Sophomore Dominic Scott and others hope to push the Bulldogs forward this year.

Scoring was tough for Holmes last year, averaging just 45 points per game.

Holmes has a proud history with a state championship in 2009. But the Bulldogs have not been to the region tournament since 2015.

The Bulldogs play host to Pendleton County on Nov. 28 at 7:30 p.m. to open the season.

Covington Latin Trojans (0-21)

The Trojans graduated five seniors off the team including their two leading scorers in Gunnar Brummett and Jackson Richardson. Junior Casey Fitzpatrick returns after averaging 6.5 points per game last year.

Covington Latin opens the season Nov. 30 at Bellevue at 7 p.m.

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