By Rich Rhoades
Clarion, Brookville and Bradford will start defense of their District 9 titles this weekend as another high school girls basketball season begins.
Individually, Reigning All American Award & Engraving/D9Sports.Com District 9 Player of the Year Emily Merryman, a senior from Cranberry, is one of 10 players back from last year’s all-district teams.
All but one first-team pick is back this year, including Rookie of the Year Brooke Hinderliter, a sophomore from Redbank Valley, junior Madison Johnson of Keystone, senior Becca Lathrop of Port Allegany and senior Ali Rinfrette of Bradford.
Both Hinderliter and Merryman were Class AA third-team all-state picks by the Pennsylvania Sports Writers.
Senior Kyla Miles and junior Maci Thornton are returning second-teamers while senior Jenna Gabreski of Coudersport, senior Lindsay Homan of Venango Catholic and junior Jen Isenberg of Sheffield were third-teamers.
Just in case you forgot about last year, here’s a review of the conference champions and playoffs:
Allegheny Mountain League
North Champion: Elk County Catholic
South Champion: DuBois Central Catholic
Conference Championship game: Elk County Catholic 42, Kane 39
North Tier League
Champion: Port Allegany
District 9 League
Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference
North Champion: Clarion
South Champion: Keystone
Conference Championship game: Clarion 45, Keystone 40
Class AAA: Bradford 56, Punxsutawney 31
Class AA: Brookville 63, Kane 51
Class A: Clarion 56, Port Allegany 41
Class A consolation: Keystone 52, Johnsonburg 46
The district got three wins overall in the state playoffs, all of them coming in Class A where Clarion reached the quarterfinals with wins over Winchester-Thurston (52-30) and Conemaugh Township (61-59) before losing to Bishop Guilfoyle (45-35). Port Allegany won its opener over Penns Manor, 52-45, before falling to Kennedy Catholic (70-21).
TEAM-BY-TEAM SCOUTING REPORT
(By classification, with last year’s record in parenthesis)
Based on last year’s rosters:
With two all-district players returning, Clarion still has enough ammunition and depth to be called the favorites and perhaps the best team in the district. Runner-up Port Allegany is in the discussion as well as the Lady Gators didn’t lose much to graduation. Keystone, Venango Catholic, Coudersport and Elk County Catholic should all be contenders for one of the four state playoff berths as well.
A-C Valley (7-14): Senior Racheal Viertel (6.4 ppg.) and junior Erin Logue (5.9 ppg.) were the third- and fourth-leading scorers for the Lady Falcons.
Austin (4-18): The top four scorers return, led by senior Hannah Glover (8 ppg.) and senior Mercedes Shupe (6.5 ppg.).
Brockway (7-12): Dick Esposito is the new head coach of the Lady Rovers. Junior Julianna Esposito (9.2 ppg.) and senior Taylor Cappetta (5.9 ppg.) were the second- and third-leading scorers for the Lady Rovers.
Cameron County (12-11): Five of the top seven scorers return, led by junior Susie Guisto (6.4 ppg.) and senior Brooke Burfield (4.1 ppg.).
Clarion (25-4): Leading scorer in junior guard Maci Thornton (12.6 ppg.) and senior forward Kyla Miles (11.3 ppg.), both second-team all-district selections, are back for the Lady Cats.
Coudersport (16-7): Five of the top scorers are back, led by leading scorer in senior Jenna Gabreski (16.2 ppg.), a third-team all-district pick, and senior Courtney Rogers (6.3 ppg.).
DuBois Central Catholic (9-14): Former longtime DCC boys coach Mike Nesbit returns to the bench for the Lady Cardinals. He was 265-92 in 13 years with the boys and he coached the Lady Cardinals for three years from 1989-91 and compiled a 79-10 mark. Two of the top five scorers back back, including top scorer in senior Kylee Schaffer (10 ppg.) and senior Maria French (8 ppg.).
Elk County Catholic (19-6): The Lady Crusaders lost their top two scorers, but four of the top six scorers are back, led by junior Julia Sweeney (6.7 ppg.).
Johnsonburg (17-9): Crystal Galsick is the new head coach of the Ramettes, who have three of their top five scorers back with seniors Chelsea Benson (10.6 ppg.), Kassa Kocjancic (7.2 ppg.) and Kathryn Polaski (5.9 ppg.).
Keystone (20-7): Junior guard and first-team all-district pick Madison Johnson (16.2 ppg.) is one of three players back from the team’s top nine scorers. Junior McKenna Shick (4.3 ppg.) and senior Kennedy McLendon (3.3 ppg.) are the others.
Northern Potter (5-17): Senior Brooklynne Cowburn (8.2 ppg.) was the second-leading scorer for the Lady Panthers.
North Clarion (1-21): Three of the top four scorers are back for the She-Wolves, led by seniors Jenny Reed (9.1 ppg.), Jenny Bauer (7.4 ppg.) and Jenny McLaughlin (5.2 ppg.).
Oswayo Valley (1-21): The Green Wave lost just two seniors. Sophomore Kelsie Pease (3.6 ppg.) is the leading returning scorer.
Otto-Eldred (10-12): Juniors Anna Colebert (10 ppg.) and Melody Young (8.4 ppg.) were the second- and third-leading scorers for the Lady Terrors.
Port Allegany (22-5): The Lady Gators lost just seniors from last year’s runner-up squad. Senior and first-team all-district selection Becca Lathrop (16.4 ppg.) was the leading scorer along with juniors Brooke Roys (7.5 ppg.) and Somer Buchenschutz (7.1 ppg.).
Ridgway (0-21): The Lady Elkers have lost 43 straight games. Sophomore Jessica Kifer (3.8 ppg.) was the leading scorer.
Sheffield (7-15): The Lady Wolverines lost three of the top four scorers to graduation, but return leading scorer in junior Jen Isenberg (16.8 ppg.).
Smethport (7-15): Junior Morgan Okerlund (9.1 ppg.) was the top scorer for the Lady Hubbers, who lost three of their top four scorers to graduation.
Union (4-18): Seniors Sydney Varner (5.8 ppg.) and Kassie McGarrity (4.4 ppg.) are the leading returning scorers for the Damsels.
Venango Catholic (13-9): The entire roster is back for the Lady Vikings, led by senior and third-team all-district selection Lindsay Homan (15.4 ppg.), junior Taylor Moltz (9.9 ppg.) and sophomore Ava Homan (7.7 ppg.).
West Forest (6-16): The top two scorers are back, led by senior Jill Wallace (13.6 ppg.) and junior Mikaela Bean (8.1 ppg.).
This could be an interesting bracket to follow in the postseason with majority of the eight teams returning their best players or most of their lineup. The exception to that is the defending champion Lady Raiders. Cranberry, Redbank Valley return all-district players while Karns City and Moniteau could be factors as well in the chase for the title.
Brookville (13-13): The defending champion Lady Raiders will be rebuilding after losing their top three scorers to graduation. Sophomore Elaina Powell (4 ppg.) is the leading returning scorer.
Clarion-Limestone (13-10): Three of the Lady Lions’ top five scorers are back, led by seniors Lily Port (9.2 ppg.) and Abby Mellott (5.3 ppg.).
Cranberry (15-9): Senior guard Emily Merryman (22.3 ppg.), a three-time first-team all-district player, is back as well as senior Julie Swartzfager (7.8 ppg.). Those two and graduated Sune Swart accounted for over 82 percent of the team’s scoring.
Curwensville (9-15): The Lady Tide return their top scorer in junior Ciara Strickland (12.9 ppg.).
Kane (21-7): The Lady Wolves lost their top four scorers to graduation. Junior Taylor Morgan (4.3 ppg.) is the top returning scorer.
Karns City (15-7): The Lady Gremlins lost just one senior from their roster, including leading scorers in junior Emily LoPresti (10.9 ppg.) and sophomore LeAnn Gibson (10.5 ppg.). Junior guard Shanel Preston (10.8 in 4 games) is also back after missing most of last year with a serious knee injury.
Moniteau (13-10): The Lady Warriors lost just one senior from the roster and return their top two scorers with senior Fontaine Glenn (11.7 ppg.) and senior Emily Rider (11.1 ppg.).
Redbank Valley (14-10): Jason Kerr is the new head coach of the Lady Bulldogs, who are led by all-stater and first-team all-district pick in sophomore Brooke Hinderliter (20.4 ppg.). Seniors Madison McClaine (6.8 ppg.) and Emma Kennemuth (5.6 ppg.) are also back.
The Lady Owls have won the past two district titles and they’ll be pressed for a three-peat by Punxsutawney, which returns its entire roster from a 14-10 season.
Bradford (21-3): Bob Hannon is the new head coach for the Lady Owls, who are led by senior point guard and two-time first-team all-district pick Ali Rinfrette (14.9 ppg.). Also back are seniors Haley Vinelli (7.1 ppg.), Payton Ambrose (4 ppg.) and Liz Coppella (1.7 ppg.).
Clearfield (6-16): Senior Brianna Spencer (5.4 ppg. in 8 games) and junior Maggie Sopic (3.3 ppg.) are the top-returning scorers for the Lady Bison.
Punxsutawney (14-10): The Lady Chucks didn’t have a senior on last year’s roster. Seniors Taylor Newcome (9.7 ppg.) and Jensen Constantino (8.2 ppg.) were the leading scorers.
St. Marys (14-9): Seniors Kiana Ho’ohuli (9.2 ppg.) and Cassie Daniels (3.7 ppg.), and sophomore Jackie Lenze (2.5 ppg.) are the top-returning scorers.
DuBois (7-15): Brean Caldwell Vaske is the new coach of the Lady Beavers, who lost almost all of their scoring to graduation. Senior Kayla Benton (17 points, 18 games) is the leading returning scorer.