Girls high school basketball opening week has officially started with games across the area and culminates in a fun slate of games on Saturday, November 3. So what better time for Bounce to make his regular season debut here on Outside the Huddle and give you my predictions for the season ahead.
I will look at three of the main conferences and some of the fringe area teams that will be worth paying attention to this season.
And for you Summit Athletic Conference fans, don’t worry because Bounce will be breaking down the SAC all on its own in a separate column. In this column, I will talk about the favorites and contenders in each conference as well as some individual players who will have big impacts. But Bounce is also a fan of the potentially unknown, so I will name some players you should know as well.
So welcome to a new season and welcome to Bounce’s conference by conference breakdown.
Northeast 8 Conference
Norwell has consistently been the top team in the conference since it was the NHC. Through the years, new challenges have arrived but no team has showcased the consistency of Eric Thornton coached teams. They reloaded last year with a big freshman class playing on the varsity level.
Bellmont will get the chance to challenge Norwell again for the top spot this year with what Bounce believes to be the conference’s best player in Grace Hunter. The question is, do they have the discipline to ultimately take down the team that has been a thorn in their side the past two seasons. The two teams don’t meet until January 12, but that could very well be for a NE8 crown.
Columbia City has kind of quietly built their program to be a contender despite not having a winning season since 2015. They have carved out a spot in the conference by banking on a group of returning juniors who have a lot of varsity experience. Landing Alaina Rongos was a big splash. How big? They get Carroll, Snider, Bishop Luers, Leo, Norwell and Concordia all before 2019, so we will find out quickly.
Leo returns almost every piece from a sub .500 team from last season and will be able to makes some waves. Hannah Adams could be a consistent force after shooting 56 percent from the field a season ago.
Grace Hunter of Bellmont is the best player in the conference. Bounce won’t hear otherwise. When she debuted as a freshman, she kind of took everyone by surprise. That surprise has long since dissipated, but we are still waiting on someone to have a good game plan to stop her consistently. Last season she averaged 16.4 points and 5.1 assists per game.
Aubrey Dunnuck of Norwell is one of the most gritty players in the conference and her role will increase this season. Bounce loves her tenacity defensively and I hope that carries over to offense where she averaged 8.5 points last season.
Alaina Rongos of Columbia City made a big move by joining Columbia City. The future Huntington University player has earned the right to compete for a conference title and will immediately be able to challenge Hunter as one of the best players in the conference.
Madalyn Robrock of Huntington North made the All-NE8 First team after a breakout year as a junior. Her 13 rebound effort against Bishop Luers showed her prowess inside against tough interior players. Few will match up well with her this season.
Players on the rise
Avan Beiswanger of East Noble is going to have to shoulder the load for any East Noble resurgence. She will likely be put in the role of the main offensive player at the Knights look to build back up to a conference contender.
Kaylee Fuelling of Norwell was part of a really fun freshman class last season but she was certainly aggressive beyond her years. Her 7.3 points per game was the best of that group and she could end up being the next big Norwell star.
Allen County Athletic Conference
Bluffton won their first postseason title in 20 years and coach Karl Grau isn’t looking to backtrack now. Bounce spent some time in Bluffton’s practice recently and it is hard to say that any other team in this area, let alone the ACAC, outworks this team even if they have better talent. The Tigers work hard and these other schools are going to have to up their game.
Jay County has been the ACAC standard since they entered the league and that won’t change. If we could get two Bluffton/Jay County games out of this season with their regular season meeting and an ACAC Tournament game, Bounce would be a happy frog indeed. They are tough and play hard, being better at that is the only way for ACAC teams to beat them.
Woodlan is still growing and them being considered a ‘contender’ may be an outside chance. Addie Bayman is a star and the big junior class with her will make Woodlan a tough team to beat. Maybe not this year, but then again…maybe they won’t be such an easy out.
Grace Miller of Bluffton is one of those rare do it all players. She can fight inside, shoots the ball well and sees the floor and has a natural calm and confidence about herself.
Emme Boots of Bluffton was one the impact freshmen in the area last season and she has a natural knack for the game. Bounce would like to see her get more aggressive, but she has the years to let that mature.
Kendra Muhlenkamp of Jay County has been a steady force in the ACAC. Like Bluffton’s Miller, she just does a lot of everything very well. No double digit averages for her a year ago, but she was third in scoring and rebounding, second in steals and first in assists on the Patriots.
Shelby Caldwell of Jay County surpassed Hanna Ault as the most important player on the Patriots last season and Bounce certainly woudln’t have seen that coming. The fans in Portland love her and Bluffton, who Bounce enjoys, are probably still having flashbacks to her 33 point night last season on 88 percent (yes, 88 percent) shooting.
Addie Bayman of Woodlan could be the best pure basketball player in the conference. She put up 16.3 points, seven rebounds and 3.9 steals per game last season. Imagine what she will do with experience under her belt.
Players on the rise
Emilee Myers of South Adams is going to have a lot of ground to cover this year as the former ACAC contender replace a ton of players. She has some experience and a knack for getting to the basket that she will need to expand upon. She is a little undersized, but if she can play in the same way former teammate Lexi Dellinger did, that won’t stop her.
Olivia King of Bluffton was one of Bounce’s favorite to watch in practice time spent with the Tigers. Bounce likes players who are fighters and King’s desire to get after the ball, even if it meant diving for a loose one caught Bounce’s attention.
Northeast Corner Conference
Central Noble earned the right to be held at a higher standard than anyone else in the NECC. This team has almost everyone back including two big college level talents. Can the Cougars make another deep run? Time will tell. But for now, the NECC is Central Noble and then everyone else in Bounce’s opinion.
Angola is a very good team and their rabid followers have already made sure Bounce knows that on Twitter. Fear not Hornets, in Outside the Huddle’s preseason countdown or not, Bounce knows that this Hornets team beat Central Noble last year. This could be a great breakout year for Ally Lorntz and Angola could be primed to make a sizable postseason run.
West Noble put together very good runs last season, including victories over good Fairfield, Eastside and Westview teams. They graduated just two players and have the depth to challenge both Angola and Central Noble. If certain games fall certain ways, it is absolutely possible for West Noble to win the NECC regular season and/or tournament.
Sydney Freeman of Central Noble put up absolutely gaudy numbers in every category last season to lead the Cougars to a Class 2A state title. The future Ball State Cardinal is going to be tough to defend in conference. As much attention as she gets for her offense, Freeman is constantly a problem on defense, in on almost every play.
Meleah Leatherman of Central Noble is a real problem in the post. There weren’t many times before last year’s semi state when she was challenged in the post but when she was, she passed with flying colors thanks to her next level agility.
Hanna Knoll of Angola is a tough perimeter player who can score in a lot of different ways. She is to the Hornets what Freeman is to Central Noble and her team will often go as she goes. She was All-NECC first team as a sophomore and could lead the Hornets back to a NECC title after averaging 11.1 points and three steals per game last year.
Madison Schermerhorn of West Noble led a balanced team of scorers with 9.6 points per game last season. Scoring 22 against eventual state semi finalist Fairfield showed that she is perfectly capable of stepping up big time in big time games.
Alexis German of Prairie Heights knocked down 31 three point shots for a Prairie Heights team that was just 6-18. While the team still grows around her, German is one of the better pure shooters in the conference and will be the Panthers’ best leader on the defensive end.
Ashya Klopfenstein of Westview was part of a league full of tough interior players last season, averaging 16 points and eight rebounds per game. The most impressive part is that Klopfenstein is a highly consistent player, hitting on 60 percent of her shots.
Players on the rise
Bridgette Gray of Central Noble played well beyond her years in the Cougars’ run to a state title. She is a more than capable point guard, who will allow Freeman to work off ball more as Gray could be a primary distributor for this team. As long as she stays efficient controlling the pace of games, Central Noble will stay efficient.
Jillian Litwiler of Fairfield is really the only significant player back from a fantastic Fairfield team. She did not factor into games the way that other girls did but she did see time in all but one contest. Her experience is valuable in bringing the rest of the team up to speed and keeping the program at a high level.
Chloe Jolloff of Lakewood Park played a fantastic freshman season that catapulted the Panthers to their first Sectional title. Now, everyone will be gunning for her. Good luck. She is one of the smoothest point guards you will see this season regardless of conference, class or grade.
Ellie Snep of Whitko is rebounding machine. The Wildcats took a big step back last year, but Snep was dangerous every single night and who didn’t she outwork at the pace of 15.8 rebounds per game? She had 20-plus rebounds four times and tallied double digit rebounds in 20 of her 22 games. Her only non double digit games saw her grab nine and three rebounds respectively. She is a force on the glass at 5-foot-9 and Bounce wouldn’t want to try to fight her for the ball.
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