Is there a tougher conference from the top down on the girls side than the NECC? No. The answer is no. Well, that is my answer anyway. You’ve seen us dive into our top 10 area teams. You know that just two of them are from the NECC.
But ask yourself this: is the best team in the middle of any other conference as good as a middle of the pack NECC team? Again, its a no. Bounce is really excited about the NECC so lets take a closer look.
If you have been paying attention to our Girls Hoops Preseason Top 50, then the “impact players” shouldn’t surprise you so we will be brief, but keep an eye on those players on the rise, all young ladies NOT in our preseason Top 50.
NOTE: The order of teams listed is Bounce’s personal predicted order of finish. Don’t sue me.
Again, if you have been paying attention to Outside the Huddle’s preview, this is no surprise. Garrett is our highest ranked NECC team in the preseason and Bounce expects them to finish just the same. They were so close last season so many times and they have a higher killer instinct this season. You can read more about the Railroaders deeper on their Top 10 preview, but let me say that seeing the trio of Bailey Kelham, Nataley Armstrong and Morgan Ostrowski is exciting. This group is fun to watch, their offense is interesting and if they can adapt as coach Bob Lapadot suggests, they will be a tough out nightly.
Who can rise into specific roles for the Hornets and what are those roles under a new head coach? Trust me, its no shot at the Hornets to have them here as a contender, you could call them a favorite too but that would be a cop out from me wouldn’t it? Hanna Knoll is just a next level player and we know Lauren Leach will be her right hand. But what about everyone else? How do these girls, some new and some returning, fill in the Hornets? They too earned a preseason area top 10 ranking.
You will soon notice a trend: there are tons of coaching changes in the NECC and the next one is at Lakeland where Dale Gearheart takes over a really athletic senior class. Is Bailey Hartsough the best basketball player in program history? She can really put a stamp on that this season and is a force that is tough to stop, averaging 15.3 points per game, shooting 38 percent from the field last season. Faith Reihl is a very strong shooter (37% three point) who will spread the floor out and sophomore Peyton Hartsough could provide a secondary scoring punch behind her sister. Look for Madison Keil to add consistency in shooting the ball after a strong junior season.
Central Noble Cougars
The Cougars should always be in your view if you are in the NECC. Coach Josh Treesh has established a specific way of running his teams and the buy in has been great. Seniors Bridgette Gray (13.5 ppg) and Lydia Andrews (8.3 ppg) have been constants for the program since winning a state title as freshmen contributors. The pair is crucial in passing the torch this season for the Cougars who will run the program outside the state champion era. Madi Vice and Meghan Kiebel both took big leaps last season and as sophomores will really have to again step up their roles and both be relied on to score more. Central Noble will need to work on their depth to get big nightly wins in the NECC but up front they are very scrappy.
The Falcons are another team that you can call a contender if they can pull some upsets. They really only had one down year and were reinvigorated last season. Expect them to have six strong girls in the rotation, led by sophomore Brea Garber (9 ppg, 5.5 rpg). Her class, including Bailey Willard and Morgan Gawthrop is very respected. Don’t count out Brooke Sanchez‘s ability to contribute as she has matured very well as part of the forefront of Fairfield rising back to the top of the conference. Coach Brodie Garber told OTH that he feels whoever wins the loaded NECC this year is going to really earn it. That is not only true but don’t be surprised if Fairfield is in the conversation.
Want one more fringe contender? Here they are. Eastside can flat out compete even after losing a couple of key pieces. Still, returners Sullivan Kessler and Ally King are dangerous. Kessler (11.9 ppg) is one of the conference’s top guards and King (7.7 ppg/6 rpg) is highly underrated for her play around the basket where she has the ability to really change things on the offensive boards. Eastside will also return Jaiden Baker (once football is over), Skye Kessler and Mataya Bireley. Don’t expect the Blazers to fall off though as they bring up a host of girls from their 19-1 JV team, including junior McKenna Hoffelder.
“We believe that we will be, by the end of the year, in a position to compete for a Sectional title,” said Blazer coach Mike Lortie.
West Noble Chargers
This is a year that West Noble was pushing for with a big senior class coming and will have a new head coach in Jeff Burns tackling the task of making sure that group of seven seniors go out on a high note. Lilly Mast (13.8 ppg/4.7 spg) is one of the conference’s best two way players with a great ability to throw heavy pressure at offenses alongside junior Jazmyn Smith (10.4 ppg). The Chargers have solid size to mix in with their great experience as the senior class is filled in by Nichelle Phares, Taytlynn Forrer, Tori Franklin, Angela Caldwell and Lily Nelson, who are all forwards, and guard Erin Shoemaker.
“We want to put players in the best positions to maximize their individual strengths, while helping the team as a whole. Our goal, as it is every season, is to compete for a conference title, conference tournament title, and a sectional title,” Burns said. “We feel that the conference and our sectional are tough, but with our returning players and our talent we should be able to compete with anyone.”
Fremont lost a lot of their offense and rebounding so there is a new bar for most of their underclassmen to reach. Jada Rhonehouse will lead the way again into her junior year as she continues to improve on her 10.2 points and 39 percent shooting. Eva Foulk will be another guard to take a look at for pace and Natalie Gochenour will also return. Outside of Gochenour, there are two other sophomores who will be expected to contribute much more in Kaylie Zuccolotto and Jenny Martin.
There is an uphill battle for the Eagles under new coach David Goodwell but one he, as a proven winner, is ready to attack. They have nearly their entire team back and have a few very talented freshmen that will be pushing their way into playing time. Mariah Hosted will lead the way alongside fellow seniors Audrey Huelsenbeck and Molly Geiger and if you want anyone to lead forward charge, it is Hosted (11 ppg/9.1 rpg). Junior guard Brelle Shearer is another key component for a team with 10 players back with some form of varsity experience.
“Getting the girls to buy in early is the key. I really like how the girls have responded so far. We have a long way to go but we will put the work in every day to reach our team goals for the 20-21 season,” Goodwell said.
Prairie Heights Panthers
Another new coach in the conference will be Bill Morr, who will take over a Panthers team that needs some new identity due to losses in graduation. That will start with junior Alayna Boots (7.2 ppg) and Kennedy Kugler (11.4 ppg/8.2 rpg). That duo demonstrated, in key roles last season, that they can be disruptive. Boots is a very good shooter who can get hot quick and Kugler is one of the area’s most underrated posts. The varsity team will also return junior Caylee Bachelor and sophomore Treyvn Terry. The intrigue will come with the handful of players that look to get time that did not play at all last season, including Alex German, Jaycee Malone and Haylee Henderson.
“We will be looking to our juniors and seniors especially this year to play major roles. We will concentrate on fundamentals and keeping things simple. With fundamentals and a simple concept in place, we will focus on a high level of intensity,” Morr said. “We will have a strong team first attitude and look to surprise some people this season.”
This will be a tough year for new coach Ryan Yoder to try and build the Warriors up. Four of their top players from a season ago will not play. Westview is going to have to rebuild from the young group up. Expect the Warriors to take some pretty bad lumps this season in a loaded NECC.
Bailey Kelham, Garrett
Bounce saw Bailey Kelham very early in the season and was wow’d. And Bounce isn’t one who pays a ton of attention to middle school basketball – I’ll be honest – so I didn’t know a lot about her. Kelham gets better EVERY SINGLE DAY. And it is what will make her stand out EVERY SINGLE DAY during the 2020-2021 season.
Hanna Knoll, Angola
How can you not love the no nonsense play of Hanna Knoll? She looks tough, she acts tough, she plays tough and frankly, I’d turn the ball over too if I saw her charging at me on defense. Everywhere else, OTH has gushed about Knoll’s offensive prowess, but for a minute, let’s appreciate what she does defensively. Angola would not be the program it is if Knoll hadn’t been as disruptive as she is. She will do it again and probably even disrupt my preseason pick at the top of the conference.
Bailey Hartsough, Lakeland
Let’s be real. At the heart of the OTH coverage area, not many know about Lakeland. But as I urge you to take on the NECC more, I have to urge you to look at Hartsough if you have never seen her before. Big players make plays even when everyone is watching and every player is throwing their best game at them. Hartsough takes everyone’s best game, chews it up and spits it out. She is a gamer and right there at the top of this loaded conference.
PLAYERS ON THE RISE
Kennedy Kugler, Prairie Heights
Kugler is just a game changer at times because the post play isn’t as focused on in the NECC as it is in other conferences. She is a double double threat nightly and if other teams don’t play tough with her at the rim, she could run roughshod many nights.
Jade Rhonehouse, Fremont
Many coaches in the conference are high on Rhonehouse, who has been the frontrunner talent for Fremont for multiple seasons. She averaged 10.2 points per game last year and sets the tempo for a Fremont team that will continue to improve in her junior season.
Jazmyn Smith, West Noble
Smith is a high tempo talent that works hard and works to OUTWORK everyone else on the court. Primarily a guard, she still averaged 7.1 rebounds her game because of her work ethic and her reads. She is critical in West Noble’s pressure defense and is capable of ripping the ball away from most players.
Madi Vice, Central Noble
Vice is a really good transition player who can get up and down the court. She averaged 6.8 points per game and can shoot the ball very well. Vice is important in Central Noble being unpredictable.
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