Girls 35th District Preview: Notre Dame, Holy Cross could once again have big battles for crown

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

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The rival Notre Dame Pandas and Holy Cross Indians had two big battles last year, splitting them. Holy Cross ended a nine-game losing streak in the series with a 37-29 win during the regular season. Notre Dame responded to win its fifth straight district championship, edging Holy Cross, 53-49 in the championship game.

The two could have similar battles this year. They meet Jan. 17 in Park Hills.

Notre Dame Pandas (19-11 last season)

Notre Dame 6-4 junior center Sophia Gibson (left) averaged 8.1 points and 5.9 rebounds last year. Photo provided | Ted Jackson

The Pandas return a lot more experience this year after graduating just one senior in forward Noelle Hubert in addition to losing Rosemary Miller, who transferred to Ryle. Hubert is playing down the road at Northern Kentucky University after averaging 15.9 points per game last year, making 107 three-point shots.

Notre Dame typically likes to pressure teams all over the court. The Pandas hope to return to that this year after the inexperience limited them to a 3-2 zone last year.

“They struggled to capture some of the fine details that are part of our program and apply,” said Kes Murphy, Notre Dame head coach. “After having gone through it, they’re in a much better spot than last year. We’re night and day compared to last year.”

Offensively, Notre Dame hopes to have a nice inside and outside attack starting with the return of 6-foot-4 junior center Sophia Gibson. Gibson averaged 8.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game last year.

The team’s lone senior in 5-11 forward Kendra Collins made 29 three-pointers last year and junior 5-10 guard Maya Lawrie returns after averaging 7.1 points per game. Two others who started a good bit last season are junior guards Georgi Kirtley and Tori Lenihan.

“We’ve been working really hard over the summer,” Lawrie said. “It should be good to come on the court together and support each other and hopefully get some big wins together. We’re connected and we’re really close. So I’m really excited to see how we come together.”

The staff is looking at a number of players to provide depth. That includes three guards in junior Kate Resing, sophomore Emma Holtzapfel and Addie Lawrie.

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“We’ve got a well-balanced attack more so than last year and we’ve got a couple of kids that can shoot,” Murphy said. “We’ve also got kids that have put in a lot of time this past offseason so they’ve made some strides. I think we’re a much better shooting team than we were two years ago.”

Notre Dame held opponents to 42 points per game last season. They shot 41% from the field, 33% from the 3-point line and 66% from the free throw line.

Notre Dame opens the season Nov. 29 at Newport Central Catholic at 7:30 p.m.

Holy Cross Indians (26-8)

The Indians have one final year with the dynamic double-double machine in senior 6-foot-2 center Julia Hunt and plan to make the most of it.

The University of Washington volleyball signee averaged 13.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game last season and clogs up the paint defensively. She scored 21 points and grabbed 18 rebounds to help Holy Cross to a 65-61 win over Bethlehem in the All “A” State championship game last year.

The Indians graduated four players off the team that lost 69-57 to Ryle in the region semifinals last year including Nejai Lewis, who averaged 10.3 points per game. But they do return a good supporting cast to make another run at the All “A” and possibly go further in the 9th Region Tournament.

Holy Cross hopes to use its size and athleticism. All five starters could be 5-foot-10 and taller. They ran a two-post offense last year, but head coach Ted Arlinghaus said the Indians will go to a one-post offense that will include a lot of dribble-drive action. The Indians hope to pressure teams all over the court defensively with their athleticism.

A big key for the Indians will be outside shooting, hitting just 29% of 3-point attempts last season. Arlinghaus said teams played a zone or soft-sagging man defense against the Indians toward the end of the season.

“That’s one of the things we’ve been hammering home as a team,” Arlinghaus said. “The amount of athleticism and skill we have as a team that we can put on the floor at any given time is going to make us a complete threat. If we can force teams to guard us from the perimeter, we’re going to be just that more successful and we’re going to be a real problem.”

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Miyah Wimzie returns to start at point guard. She is one of four seniors on the team. The other two are guard/forward Aaliyah Hayes and forward Ariona Thurmond.

“I think we have really good team chemistry,” Wimzie said. “We have a lot of people coming to fill spots. I’m expecting a lot from our team this year.”

Sophomore forward/guard Aumani Nelson along with freshman guards DMyah Williams and Alyssa Arlinghaus could help fill in some guard roles. They played in at least 28 games last year.

Holy Cross opens the season Nov. 28 at home against St. Henry at 7:30 p.m.

Beechwood Tigers (14-14)

Riley Boyd (22) returns to lead Beechwood after averaging 10 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last year. Photo provided | Adam Lewandowski

Isaac Speicher enters his third season looking to continue to progress the Tigers program. They hit .500 last year for the first time since going 14-12 in the 2013-14 season.

“It’s about developing relationships with players,” Speicher said. “We do more than just talk about basketball. We use sports as a vehicle for teaching them about life.”

The Tigers graduated two seniors off last year’s team and guard Harper Birkemeier is unable to play her senior year because of injuries. But Beechwood does return three starters led by senior Riley Boyd, who can play every position but the center spot. Boyd led the Tigers averaging 10 points and 4.2 rebounds last year. Speicher said the Tigers will feature Boyd in the offense this year.

The other two returning starters are junior guard Hayden Ritter and junior forward/post Charley Conarroe. The Tigers have a good group of young players coming up led by sophomore guard Kendale Lair, freshman post Macy Armstrong and freshman forward Rachel Lewandowski. Lair, Armstrong and Lewandowski helped Beechwood’s volleyball team go 25-13 and find a spot in the 9th Region Tournament for the first time since 2017 in the fall.

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Offensively, Speicher said the Tigers hope to play up-tempo and improve on the 45 points per game they averaged last season. Improved shooting percentages would help, hitting from the field at about 33% and 24% from the 3-point line while hitting 59% of their free throw attempts.

“We have to trust in the process daily,” Speicher said. “We know our best talent. We’re growing the young girls. It will take time.”

Beechwood opens up the season when they host to Newport on Nov. 29 at 7 p.m.

Holmes Bulldogs (4-22)

Holmes struggled with youth and inexperience last year in Tracy Pope’s first season leading the team.

Although still mostly young, the Bulldogs return a lot of that experience this year. Holmes has one junior in forward Natashalee Cole and one senior in guard AJ Faehr. Cole is a returning starter along with freshman 5-11 center MaKyah Covington, freshman guard Carlie Riley and eighth grade guard India Tye. Eighth grade center Calia Beauchamp also hopes to make an impact this year.

“They’ve all grown up some and they’re getting better,” Pope said. “They came in for workouts during the offseason. They were dedicated trying to get better, finding ways to play outside of school and inside of school. I don’t find myself repeating myself as much. They support each other more. There are a lot more high fives in practice.”

Holmes plays at Boone County on Nov. 28 to open the season at 7:30 p.m.

Covington Latin Trojans (0-14)

The Trojans graduated one senior in Marielle Gearding.

This year’s team lists two seniors in Monica Juelg and Karina Stankova. Four juniors hope to help the Trojans improve their shooting in Matt Juelg’s second season as head coach and snap a 30-game losing streak that dates back to a 45-42 overtime win at Newport on Feb. 13, 2020.

The first game on the KHSAA schedule is Dec. 5 at home against Kentucky School for the Deaf at 7:30 p.m.

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