CINCINNATI -- The Ohio girls’ basketball season officially begins Nov. 24 and some of the state’s premier teams are once again in the Cincinnati area.
The area has won three of the past four Division I state titles.
The area will be primed for another run to Columbus in the large-school division with several top players returning.
Let’s take a look at nine area teams (no particular order) to watch as the season begins Thanksgiving weekend:
Mount Notre Dame (26-4 in 2016-17)
The Cougars defeated Toledo Notre Dame Academy 54-44 to win their sixth state basketball title in program history in March. MND won't surprise anyone this winter.
“I think Mount Notre Dame has to be the clear favorite with their season last year,” said Bryce McKey, associate director and director of scouting for Ohio Girls’ Basketball Report. “They return pretty much everything.”
MND will be led by several players including senior guard Gabbie Marshall (Iowa commit), senior forward Abby Voss (Florida Atlantic) and junior forward Julia Hoefling (Loyola University Chicago).
Marshall averaged 13.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 1.9 assists last season. Voss (9.5 ppg., 5.8 rpg.) and Hoefling (10.1 ppg., 5.0 rpg.) were named to the Associated Press All State Tournament Team.
“I like the fact that they’ve tried to forget about March -- that’s the main thing,” MND coach Dr. Scott Rogers said. “That was a great ride. You need a little bit of luck. You need to be on the right run and maybe win a game you shouldn’t have. All those things happened to us. We were really fortunate to play really well at the right time.”
Rogers said his team understands this is a new season and nothing will be given to them. MND also has freshman wing Laila Phelia, who has scholarship offers that include Ohio State and Xavier.
“Her basketball ability is really incredible,” Rogers said.
MND opens the season at the Journey to the Tourney against Westerville South in a game at Lakota West at 4:20 p.m. Nov. 25.
The Comets return four starters from a squad that was a regional runner-up last season to MND. Mason will be led by junior 6-2 guard Sammie Puisis, a Florida State verbal commit, who was first-team all-state and the Associated Press Southwest District Player of the Year last season.
Puisis averaged 16.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists. She shot better than 46 percent from the field.
Other players to watch include senior forward Tihanna Fulton, senior forward Anna Brinkmann and sophomore point guard Megan Wagner.
Mason coach Rob Matula likes the team’s experience on a significant stage. He wants to see the Comets play with attitude. “This group really seems to be concentrated on doing the very best we can and hopefully having a chance to make a long run in the postseason,” Matula said.
Mason opens the season against Columbus Africentric at 6 p.m. Nov. 25 at the Journey to the Tourney.
Lakota West (24-3)
The Firebirds were a regional semifinalist last season and coach Andy Fishman returns a talented squad led by senior guard/forward Abby Prohaska (Notre Dame), who averaged 11 points, seven rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.8 steals last season.
“Shooting has been her biggest improvement from last year,” Fishman said. “She’s working to get to the free-throw line more.”
The Firebirds also return senior guard Sarah Jones (Embry-Riddle University), senior guard Ally Haar (Niagara) and sophomore forward Nevaeh Dean. Senior guard Madisyn Oxley, senior forward Jasmine Ballew and junior guard Bryana Henderson also provide depth.
“The girls are training hard with focus,” Fishman said. “There seems to be a great sense of ownership and collective pride.”
Lakota West opens the season Nov. 25 against Hamilton Heights (Tennessee) in the Journey to the Tourney (7:30 p.m. tipoff).
The Lady Vikings return everyone from last season’s team including senior forward DeAsia Reid (11.4 ppg., 9.9 rpg.) and senior guard Malika Wildon (8.5 ppg, 3.6 steals per game). Key newcomers including Ashley Davis, Darian Braddix, Alyssa McElroy and Madison Roshelle, according to Princeton coach Jill Phillips.
“I think building off of last year’s success has this team hungry to do more,” Phillips said. “We have been working hard in the preseason.”
West Clermont (new program)
Coach Jeff Click likes the experience of this team including six seniors and juniors who provide veteran leadership for the first-year program after Amelia and Glen Este merged.
“The adjustment has been great for the players,” said Click, who was at Glen Este for 21 years. “There is just a lot of excitement being in a brand new awesome place -- from the main gym, auxiliary gym and weight room. There is a lot of excitement.”
Senior guard Jasmine Hale (Wisconsin) averaged 13.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals last season for Glen Este. Other players to watch include senior guard Kaylin Burdick (Ursuline College) and senior post player Alexis Starks along with junior guards Kirsten Click, Dakota Reeves and Jenna Simon. The key newcomers include freshman Kendall Hale (Jasmine’s sister) and freshman Marissa Jenike.
Summit Country Day (27-1)
Summit returns four key players from a team that was the Division III regional runner-up and the state’s No. 1-ranked team in the final Associated Press poll. Senior guard Alea Harris (10.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg.), a Wofford commit, senior guard Kiana Allen (10.7 ppg.) and senior forward Niah Woods (9.2 ppg., 5.1 rpg.) will provide solid leadership. The trio has led Summit to a 74-6 record with two district titles and two regional final appearances in their three years.
“I’m excited to see how they finish their career at The Summit,” coach Beth Simmons said.
Look for sophomore Rachel Martin, junior guard Kiernan Cinque and freshman forward Bryana Woodard to also make an impact.
The Mohawks were a Division I regional semifinalist last season and coach Dan Wallace said this squad is deep and hungry.
“I am very confident that I have an incredible bench and kids who could compete for starting spots every night,” Wallace said. “We should be able to play faster than in the past which always makes for exciting teams to watch.”
Three starters return from last season including senior guard Hallie Heidemann (11.6 ppg., 5.8 rpg.), an Ashland commit, junior guard Sydney Benning and sophomore guard Lexi Fleming.
Senior 6-1 forward Bri Kelhoffer and sophomore forward Alex Smith will also contribute.
"This team is small overall but fast, smart, incredibly hard-working and know what it takes to win,” Wallace said. “Our success over the past few years has taught these kids how hard you have to work to win games in this city and the GGCL.”
The Lady Knights return junior guard Devin Beisbrock, junior forward Carolyn Bruns (11.5 ppg., 7.0 rpg.), junior guard Jordyn Rhodes and senior guard Chandler Kircher.
Other impact players will include Lexie Sparks (transfer), sophomore guard Savannah Douglas and freshman guard Emery Cook.
“What I like most about our team is the camaraderie and the support these girls give one another,” Kings coach Kate Haralamos said. “It is very competitive every day but I know these girls treat one another like family.”
Roger Bacon (13-10)
The team’s three best players return this season, according to coach Jacob Cheesman.
Sophomore 5-9 guard Kelly Brenner (11.9 ppg.) was the team’s leading scorer a year ago. Junior guard Jalyn Jackson has scored nearly 500 points in two seasons and is dangerous in space. Senior guard Kaylee Sunders is the school’s career assists leader.
Watch for freshman 5-8 guard Kylee Sheppard, who is excellent in the open court and has great court vision, according to Cheesman. Freshman 6-2 forward Clarissa Craig can shoot the 3, handle the ball in the open court and has excellent post moves. Sophomore guard Lyric Harris can play any position and is a dynamic finisher.
Watch for junior guard Shanaya Figg, who may be the best athlete on the team in terms of strength and speed.
“This preseason we are working on defending as a unit,” Cheesman said. “We like to apply pressure and force the pace, so communication is vitally important every possession. Offensively we are working on playing through each other, teaching selflessness and making the extra pass."