CINCINNATI -- The Mount Notre Dame basketball program has a significant amount of tradition.
So returning to the state Final Four this week for the first time since 2009 offers an opportunity for the fans and alumni to reflect on past success while the players and coaches focus on Friday night in Columbus.
“We’re proud to represent MND up there,” MND coach Scott Rogers said.
MND (24-4) plays Canton McKinley (23-5) in a Division I state semifinal at 6 p.m. Friday at the Schottenstein Center. Several former standout MND players are expected to be in attendance.
The winner plays either Newark or Toledo Notre Dame in the state final at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Our coaching staff has challenged our girls in that our schedule is going to prepare us for our run,” Rogers said.
MND defeated Glen Este, Huber Heights Wayne, McAuley and Mason in the postseason -- no small feat -- en route to its first state Final Four appearance since 2009 when it won the state title.
"We keep playing as a team," MND sophomore guard Gabbie Marshall said. "We've been coming together as a team through the tournament."
Friday will be the eighth state tournament appearance for MND. The Cougars also won state basketball titles in ’08, ’07, ’06 and ’04.
Rogers was the head coach for the 2004 and ’06 state titles and an assistant to Dante Harlan for the ’07 team.
Rogers knows when there is a special group and this year’s team fits the bill. Saturday’s regional final win against Mason was a perfect example. The Cougars trailed most of the night but didn’t lose their resolve.
“Our girls got really locked in,” Rogers said. “Everybody wants to win. It’s just one of those things. They can feel it. The girls can feel they have something special. They are all focused on grinding out possessions offensively and defensively.”
The Cougars are led by several players including Marshall, who averages 14.4 points. She’s really stepped up her point guard duties in place of the injured Makira Cook, who is out for the season after being hurt in mid-February.
“Gabbie has totally evolved her game into making people better,” Rogers said.
Sophomore forward Julia Hoefling averages 10.1 points and will step up in clutch moments for the team.
Junior forward Abby Voss scored a game-high 16 points against Mason and could very well be a key player Friday night.
Senior center Maria Pisciotta (7.9 ppg.) has been the team’s solid post presence and can finish in the low post with both hands. Senior Madison Marcum (4.7 ppg.) is the other projected starting guard.
The Cougars don’t generally do anything fancy but they rebound, defend and are patient offensively. Those are key ingredients for March.
“They work the ball around quite well with their high-low game,” Canton McKinley coach Pamela Davis said. “They can turn up the pressure if they choose to and they can play a zone that can create matchup problems.”
Canton McKinley is led by sophomore 6-foot-1 guard Kierstan Bell, who averages 25 points. Bell has multiple scholarship offers from the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference programs.
Rogers said Bell reminds him of Mason standout guard Sammie Puisis without the shooting range.
“I don’t know if you are going to stop (Bell),” Rogers said.
MND, which averages 61.5 points and allows just 40 points on average, scouted McKinley’s regional final against Solon last Friday night.
The Lady Pups like shooting 3-pointers. They made a school-record 10 in a game this season.
Rogers said the Lady Pups present some matchup problems for the Cougars. MND will have to be consistent defensively and be aggressive on the offensive end.
McKinley, who averages 59.7 points and allows 44.9 points, is also led by junior guard Chamera Young who averages 10 points.
But the Cougars will be ready.
MND is leaving for Columbus Thursday night. The Cougars will practice at Otterbein – another program tradition -- before taking the floor at the Schottenstein Center Friday night.
"This is so much fun," Voss said. "It's unbelievable."