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CovCath basketball team ready for the challenge of the Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena

Colonels play Ashland Blazer Thursday night
CovCath photo.JPG
Posted at 11:38 AM, Mar 15, 2022

PARK HILLS, Ky. — Covington Catholic senior power forward/center Mitchell Rylee can't wait to step onto the Rupp Arena court Thursday night.

"It means a lot," said Rylee, a Miami University signee. "A kid playing in Kentucky, it's always been a dream of mine to play in the Sweet 16."

CovCath (28-4) plays Ashland Blazer (26-5) in a Kentucky High School Athletic Association Sweet 16 first-round tournament game at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

The Colonels won the Ninth Region title last week for the fourth time in the past five years and the 14th time overall.

There is plenty of anticipation for Thursday night.

Rylee, the Ninth Region tournament's most valuable player, understands the significance of being in the state tournament. The 6-foot-8 star averages 16.5 points and 8.3 rebounds as the Colonels have won 10 consecutive games.

"Coach (Scott) Ruthsatz and the coaching staff and the whole school express that going to the Sweet 16 and winning a state championship is the expectation of the school," Rylee said. "They expect nothing less, nothing more. They just want a state championship."

CovCath won state titles in 2014 and 2018 and hopes history repeats itself in this fourth year since the most recent crown.

"It never gets old," said CovCath coach Scott Ruthsatz, who won his program-leading sixth regional title last week. "None of these guys have played at Rupp Arena. In typical other years we've always had a group that has followed that kind of knew what the experience was like."

CovCath is no stranger to being a road team. After all, it had just eight home games out of 28-game regular season schedule.

The Colonels' most recent loss was at Ashland Blazer (71-60) so there is a familiarity ahead of Thursday night.

"I think they get out in transition great," Ruthsatz said. "In watching the film just before today, they shoot the ball really well. Their point guard does a great job of getting in the lane and making you come and guard him and then he kicks the ball around. They have shooters on the outside that are catch-and-shoot guys. So we got to make sure we protect the 3-point line - that's our main message."

Ruthsatz has been impressed by several players including Rylee, Starks and Isparo.

"(Rylee) has been our guy that we can go to, get it in the post," Ruthsatz said.

"Defensively, he's gotten tremendously better than at the beginning of the year getting his hands up, being big, staying out of foul trouble. Those things are key for us to keep him on the floor."

The Colonels have seen consistent production from junior point guard Evan Ipsaro (21.7 points per game) along with junior forward Chandler Starks (9.6 ppg., 8.4 rebounds per game).

Starks will need to guard perimeter players during the tournament, Ruthsatz said. He's versatile enough to guard 1 through 5 this season.

Ipsaro has been excellent in transition and has the ability to make pull-up jumpers and his passing has been effective.

"We're really excited," Ruthsatz said. "We've got a lot of leadership going down to Lexington. These guys work their tails off all year. It's a competitive schedule, lots of travel. But, they've been fantastic and we're definitely ready for this challenge."

Ruthsatz said the team views the opportunity this week as a clean slate and a new season.

He said the Colonels have emphasized taking extra care of their physical well-being since the preseason began in October.

"A lot of ice baths, a lot of rolling, stretching - doing things at home now that we have an in-house strength guy that really helps," Ruthsatz said.

Rylee said the team is eating well and staying hydrated in preparation for games.

"I will eat my regular meals but then I will have a pregame meal that usually consists of a pasta, a chicken, a salad," Rylee said. "I will also eat granola bars, energy waffles, pretzels for the salt, trail mix starting around two-and-a-half hours before the game and I will space that out and eat it up to game time."

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