Girls prep hoops: ACAC PREVIEW
The rivalry between South Adams and Jay County keeps getting better and could reach a crescendo this season. Last year, South Adams won the regular-season meeting at home by 10 to claim a tie with the Patriots for the conference title, but the Patriots won big at their place on their way to the ACAC Tournament title.
This year’s first of a possible two meetings is Dec. 16 in Portland.
Predicted order of finish
1. South Adams
With eight returning players, all five starters and four seniors, South Adams is likely the conference favorite. The Starfires also return first-team all-league players Lex Dellinger and Madi Wurster who were the only underclassmen on last year’s first team. Dellinger averaged 17.3 points, 4.8 assists and 3.0 steals per game last year, and Wurster 9.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.3 blocks. Sydney Pierce also scored 8.1 points and Calyssa Lehman 5.5 points last year.
“I’m definitely excited to see what we can bring this year just because we didn’t lose anyone, how far we went last year and how well we played as a team,” Pierce said. “I’m anxious to see who steps up this year, especially the underclassmen. We want them to do their best.”
2. Jay County
Jay County never starts from scratch. Shelby Caldwell comes back after scoring 12.7 points last year as a junior, while Hannah Ault averaged 8.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists. Sisters Kendra and Brianna Muhlenkamp are also returning as is Gwen Omstead, Hanna Dillon, Clare Dirksen and Sam Twigg. The Patriots may have trouble matching up with Wurster’s height. Ault was a second-team all-conference player last year, and Caldwell would have been named except she missed all but three games due to an injury. Patriots coach Kirk Comer needs one win for 300 in his career.
If either of those teams struggle, Bluffton hopes to be able to step up to challenge. The Tigers continued their gradual improvement by going 4-2 and tying Woodlan for third-place in the conference last year. Second-team all-conference player Gabby Streveler averaged 6.7 points last year, and fellow senior Megan Prater averaged 3.2 points, 2 assists and 2 steals last year. Junior post player Autumn Moriarity averaged 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds last year, and junior Grace Miller 4.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals and junior forward Jamie Myers 4 points and 4 rebounds last year. Juniors Allison Powers and Alyssa Burchett provide solid depth.
“I’m really excited to see what we’re going to be able to do,” Streveler said. “I think we’ll be able to go above and beyond. Everyone was working hard this summer, and they were willing to show up and work for it.”
4. Southern Wells
Southern Wells has a new coach in Jessica Killingbeck and six letterwinners returning from a sectional championship squad. Seniors Jessica Yencer and Jada Johnson were second-team all-ACAC last year, averaging 10 and 11 points, respectively. There’s also good height in the lineup with 5-11 junior Sarah Bothast, 6-0 senior Malinah Dixon and 5-11 junior Kirtlyn Noble. Sophomores Jenna Eltzroth and Juniper Tucker and freshman Georgia Harquer help in the backcourt.
“I think we are lucky to be back because we have both experienced a team where we had few numbers, and we really had to build a bond to push through that fourth quarter when nothing felt like it was going in our favor,” Yencer said. “This year I’m excited because we have a lot of new bodies and a lot of people coming back out so we get to play with a lot of different talent. We went father last year than a lot of people expected with little numbers, and this year I’m excited to see whre we can go with more talent and more opportunities.”
There’s been a two-year building process for Heritage coach Melissa Connor, but she’s starting to see her culture building in the Patriots. She’ll build around six returning letterwinners, including senior forward Karlee Fackler, 3.2 points and 3.1 rebounds; juniors Nevaeh Feasby, 6.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists; junior forward Taylor Zelt, 2.4 points and 3.7 rebounds; junior guard Katie Graham, sophomore forward Bree Dossen 5.3 points and 3.6 rebounds and sophomore guard Abby Sheets, 3.1 points.
“I feel like this year we finally got to where most of our team has a full season under their belts,” Connor said. “I can see a little bit more of what I’ve been instilling. I think all of them can really score more than they did last year. The girls are starting to see that they play well together as a team, and I think they can see the potential themselves.”
Of all the ACAC teams, it’s likely Woodlan lost the most to graduation with six seniors, but Gary Cobb thinks he can build with the remaining players, including second-team all-conference sophomore Addie Bayman who averaged 8.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists last year. The leaders will be senior K.C. McGettigan and juniors Maddie Koos and Lexia Holmes, but there’s an awesome sophomore class coming up behind them. That group includes Taya Kitzmiller, Gabby Joyce, Hannah Albertson, Kate Mendenhall and Lauren Meyer. They won the ACAC titles as seventh graders, eighth graders and were 13-7 last year in the junior varsity team.
“We’re just really inexperienced on the varsity level,” Cobb said. “Now is the time to step up, but it’s going to take a while. We’re going to be competitive but whether we’re going to be able to step over that line and win a lot of games, I don’t know. I think we can surprise a lot of people. We’ll compete.”
7. Adams Central
Adams Central has taken a lot of lumps the past two seasons, winning two games each, but many of those players were freshmen and sophomores, and coach Cheri Jesionowski thinks that experience will start to build to a positive record this season. Juniors Lexi Smith and Brooklyn Salway each averaged 8 points last year, Melanie Bard 5 points, Madison Bebout 4 points, while Courtney Lotter is the only senior, and Carley Holley and Keri Sheets also also had significant varsity time last year.
Most Valuable Player: Lexi Dellinger, South Adams
Best Shooter: Shelby Caldwell, Jay County
Best Post Player: Madi Wurster, South Adams
Best Defender: Addie Bayman, Woodlan
Best Passer: Lexi Dellinger, South Adams
Best Intangible Player: Hannah Ault, Jay County