Once again this year, the talent level in Ohio is phenomenal. It has been a great run for these teams as they have battled rivals, incredible talent and some have even fought through adversity and big deficits to advance onto center stage this weekend. The 44th annual OHSAA girls’ basketball state tournament will take place over the next three days at the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University, ending with the four state champions being crowned on Saturday.
All four of last years state champions are back for more, and that means the targets on the back are even larger.
Pickerington Central returns to Columbus with one mission in mind: to win their second consecutive championship. Coming off their seventh state title in school history, the Tigers are averaging over 68 points per game as a team and return their entire starting lineup from last season. Pickerington Central is led by Penn State signee Madison Greene at 15.4 points per game, and the 5-7 senior is closely followed by 6-0 senior Maliya Perry, who is headed to Auburn.
The Tigers’ first round opponent will be Toledo Notre Dame Academy, who earned its sixth state Final Four in the past eight years. Notre Dame Academy comes into the Final Four with a 21-5 record after winning the Three Rivers Athletic Conference. Senior point guard Jala Johnson led the way with a 15.4 point per game average and earned the Northwest District Player of the Year, while 6-2 freshman wing Grace VanSlooten put together a very solid freshman season averaging 12.1 points per game and has already drawn attention from major Division I schools.
Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame is another team with seven overall state championships, its last one in 2017. They survived a grueling regional tournament and the Cougars are led by 5-8 senior Gabby Marshall, who is signed with the University of Iowa, one of three starters signed or committed to the next level. 6-0 senior Julia Hoefling is headed to Loyola Chicago and junior guard Makira Cook is committed to Miami of Ohio. Also leading the way in scoring for Mount Notre Dame is 5-9 freshman KK Bransford at 17 points per game.
Rounding out the Division I schools is GlenOak out of the Federal League. They assembled the most consecutive wins in school history and won their third league title in five years. They will be going after their second state championship in school history (1989) and are led by Hayley Smith, a 6-1 junior averaging 12.1 points per game. Their balance is one reason they have advanced to Columbus, as they have seven players averaging just under seven points per game.
Another team back looking for the repeat is Toledo Rogers, which is returning eight players from their state championship team. This athletic team with an aggressive defense and full court transition offense can also run an effective half-court offense when needed. They bring in 2018 U17 USA guard Zia Cooke, who is headed to South Carolina next season. Cook averages 21.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and over four assists per game and was honored as the NW District Player of the Year. Right behind Cooke is 5-11 sophomore Madison Royal-Davis, who averaged over 18 points per game. Senior Kearrah Peace also nearly reached double figures, as they scored at a pace of 71.2 points per game as a team. Rogers won seven district titles in eight years and has four Final Four appearances.
Thornville Sheridan comes into the Final Four 25-2 overall after allowing a school record for fewest points per game allowed this season. They have the most wins in a season, and 6-0 senior Rachel Cooke will leave Sheridan as their all-time leading scorer, while 5-9 junior Kendyl Mick is the all-time leader in assists. Both players are headed to Findlay to play college basketball. Cooke is leading the team at 12.8 points per game, while Mick is at 9.1. Emma Conrad, a 5-8 senior and Faith Stinson, a 6-1 freshman both average eight.
Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary makes its first state Final Four appearance since 2014 and their fifth overall. Three of those previous appearances have ended in state championships in 1979, 1980 and 1995. This team has good size and depth and look for that to be their determining factor in their success in Columbus. Coach Carley Whitney brings her team into the state tournament with nine losses, but have peaked at the right time, as they are led by three players in double figures, including 6-2 freshman Lanae Riley who averages 16 points per game and 5-foot-8 senior Maria Dobson at 15 points per game. Both players were honored as All-Inland District selections. 6-foot senior Sophia Williams is close behind averaging 12. Seven of their top eight players score at a pace of seven points per game or more.
Dayton Carroll (AP No. 1) will bring their 26-2 record into the state Final Four after consecutive Greater Catholic League Coed Conference championships, a division that is no stranger to making trips to Columbus. The Patriots are here for the second time in school history, as they finished as the state runner-up in 2011. They are led by first-team all-Southwest District guard Elisabeth Bush, a 5-foot-8 senior averaging close to 14 points per game on a balanced team. She was conference co-Player of the Year with her own teammate. Julia Keller earned the other half of the conference Player of the Year honors, as the 5-foot-11 post player is very multi-dimensional and also averaged 13 points per game and a team-high 7.4 rebounds. Guard Allie Stefanek and wing Megan Leraas also are two players who will be a factor for the Patriots.
Columbus Africentric is back for more and they are geared up going for their seventh state championship in school history. The Nubians are the defending state champions and come into the Final Four at 24-0 on the season, ranked No. 3 in the final USA Today and ESPN Hoop Girls national polls. The program has won nine regional titles and brings in a talented squad where their top six scorers only have one senior, but she is a good one. 6-1 senior Jordan Horston has enjoyed a lot of national success as a member of the USA basketball team, as the University of Tennessee signee leads the Nubians at 18 points per game. Right behind Horston is 5-foot-8 junior Alexia Smith at 16 points per game. Averaging over 75 points per game, this team starts four players 6-0 or taller.
Their Final Four opponent is another program who needs no introduction to Columbus, as longtime coach Dave Schlabach has Berlin Hiland making their OHSAA-record 16th appearance in the Final Four. They have five state championships, including their last one in 2017. They also have four state runner-up finishes in their storied history, along with 850 career wins, which has moved them to the top of the all-time leaderboard for victories. The Hawks are led by Zoe Miller, as the 6-1 sophomore averages 16.1 points per game. Also reaching double figures is Brynn Mullet at 10.6 points per game. The scary thing for the rest of the Division III schools in Ohio is the top eight players at Hiland consists of three juniors, five sophomores and a freshman.
For only the second time in school history, Waynesville advances to the state Final Four. The 27-0 Spartans survived a challenging region to advance to this weekend, and their win total is a school record.
Waynesville does have six district championships and advanced to the regional finals last year before losing to Versailles. Rachel Murray, a 5-6 senior guard leads the way for the Spartans, as the SW District Player of the Year has scored over 1,700 career points, and averages 20 points per game this season. Another first-team all-district player is 6-foot senior Marcella Sizer, who will be headed to Youngstown State next season to play soccer. Sizer is averaging a double-double, with over 13 points and 10 rebounds per game. Lynzie Hartshorn, who sealed the regionals with late free throws is a 5-6 senior averaging over eight points per game.
Making their third appearance in the Final Four is coach Denny Schrock and Doylestown Chippewa. They finished as state runner-up in 1994 and made another appearance in 2015. Schrock’s squad has good size with 6-0 senior Grace Lindquist (12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds) and 5-11 junior Celina Kontz, who averaged a team-high 16.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Chippewa fought off a tough challenge from Elyria Catholic and rebounded from a big deficit for the regional championship last weekend.