The chill in the air means the return of basketball season, and wouldn’t you know it, the girls season gets underway this week. With the return of basketball, the weekly installment of my power rankings also returns. I will incorporate the rankings for boys basketball when it gets started in a few weeks.
Here’s my first edition of power rankings for girls basketball and five other players to watch not mentioned in the rankings.
No. 1 Angola
2018 record: 21-7, 9-1 NECC
Key game early on: Nov. 16 at Norwell
The Hornets return multiple impact players from last year’s team that made it to the Class 3A Columbia City Regional championship game. Hanna Knoll is one of the best players in the area returning this season, and she’s only a junior. Think about that. Also, her name is Hanna. That’s a plus in my book, even if it’s spelled differently.
Angola lost Sarah Duvendack and Reace Peppler to graduation, which means sophomore Lauren Leach and senior Kayla Fenstermaker should take larger roles this season. Fenstermaker is the team’s leading returning rebounder, and Leach led the Hornets in assists last season.
The Hornets will be hard to stop this season, and it will be hard to knock them off the top spot.
No. 2 Central Noble
2018 record: 27-1, 10-0 NECC
Key game early on: Nov. 26 vs. Lakeland
The Cougars lost two of the best players to come through their program in Sydney Freeman and Meleah Leatherman, but I don’t think they fall as far as some might expect. Now, it’s time for juniors Bridgette Gray and Lydia Andrews and senior Sam Brumbaugh to step up and lead this team.
Gray is the leading returning scorer with 9.7 points per game, and Andrews is the leading returning rebounder with 4.2 boards per game.
Watch out for freshmen Madi Vice and Megan Kiebel to make an immediate impact for the Cougars this season.
No. 3 Lakeland
2018 record: 15-8, 7-3 NECC
Key game early on: Nov. 9 vs. Kankakee Valley at Lake Central Tournament
Bailey Hartsough is right up there with Knoll as one of the best players in the area, and she is also only a junior. She led the team in points per game (19), rebounds (6.1), steals (4.4) and blocks (1) last season.
Keirstin Roose, also a junior, had a very productive 2018-19 campaign and can only get better. There’s also plenty of depth around those two, including Beth Stroop, Isabelle Larimer and Madison Keil.
The Lakers have a tough first month of the season, including the Lake Central Tournament this Saturday, but it should benefit them down the road.
No. 4 Garrett
2018 record: 13-9, 5-4 NECC
Key game early on: Nov. 26 at Angola
The Railroaders are going to be young again but still talented with their young core of Nataley Armstrong, Faith Owen and Morgan Ostrowski all returning.
Garrett also plans on starting another young player in freshman Bailey Kelham.
A third of the Railroaders’ losses last season came against Angola. Will they challenge the Hornets this season? Garrett hasn’t beaten the Hornets since Nov. 25, 2014.
No. 5 West Noble
2018 record: 18-6, 7-3 NECC
Key game early on: Nov. 12 vs. Columbia City
The Chargers graduated a lot from last year’s sectional championship team. Junior Lilly Mast is back after leading the team in scoring (10.9 points per game). There are a couple of other players that have some varsity experience, including Nichelle Phares, Erin Shoemaker and Jazmyn Smith.
But it might take a few weeks into the season before this team, that has played together at the lower levels, to gel at the varsity level.
Others considered: Fremont, East Noble, Lakewood Park.
5 Others to Watch
No. 1 Chloe Jolloff, Lakewood Park
Jolloff has been the leader of the Panthers for two seasons now and still has two years of eligibility remaining. She’s one of the best ball handlers in the area and knows how to get other involved on offense.
No. 2 Taylor Gerke, Lakewood Park
Gerke led the Panthers in the points and rebounds last season as a freshman. Along with Jolloff, this is a duo that is productive and fun to watch.
No. 3 Carly Turner, East Noble
The Knights are loaded with juniors, including Turner. She led the team in points and rebounds last season. For the Knights to turn their program in the right direction, Turner will have to be at the forefront.
No. 4 Gloria Miller, Westview
With the loss of Ashya Klopfenstein to graduation, Miller will now be the primary option for the Warriors. She was second to Klopfenstein in points and rebounds last season. Can Miller keep Westview relevant in the NECC?
No. 5 Kennedy Kugler, Prairie Heights
As a freshman, Kugler led the Panthers in rebounds (8.6) and was second in points (9.2) behind teammate Alexis German. For Heights to be competitive in the NECC, Kugler will have to continue to improve as a scoring threat to go along with her rebounding skills.