By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
Returning everyone from a year ago often amounts to great things.
But that is only the case if those returning players sharpen their games in the offseason. Second-year Newport Central Thoroughbreds Girls Basketball Head Coach George Stoll and staff hope that proves true this season.
NewCath returns all but one senior from last year’s 20-10 team. The Thoroughbreds won their seventh straight All “A” 9th Region champion and finished All “A” State Runner-up squad for the second straight year. That one senior in Jillian Hoover played in just one game where she scored one basket to open the game because of a torn Anterior Cruciated Ligament.
“I think we had a really good team camp over the summer,” Stoll said. “They’ve really worked at it. The thing with NewCath is we have a lot of girls who play three sports. I think that’s a good thing because it gives them a break from basketball for a while. The girls have grown quite a bit more. We hope that pays off. We’re picking up from last year.”
The Thoroughbreds lost 48-40 to Highlands in the 36th District semifinals missing out on the 9th Region Tournament for the first time since 2008. They won just twice after the All “A” Tournament.
“We talked about that a little before,” Stoll said. “What didn’t help last year is we had a brutal schedule when we got back. It was a bunch of good teams before we turned around and beat Conner and Ryle. I hope this year we adjust a bit better.”
NewCath starts in the middle with two solid post players in senior Nikki Kiernan and junior Alexus Mayes. Kiernan, a preseason region Most Valuable Player candidate, recorded a double-double of 17.9 points and 11.1 rebounds a year ago. Mayes averaged 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds. The two received a lot of doubles and triples in the point last year and hope to find ways to counter that better this season.
Kiernan made a team-high 196-of-416 shots for 47 percent including 18-of-55 from three-point land for 32.7 percent. Kiernan also made 130-of-167 free-throw attempts for 77.8 percent.
“We’re basically trying to work together as a team,” Mayes said. “If the one is being double-teamed, they have to leave another open. If not, we can rely on our guards. Our skills are getting better. We’re in the gym every day.”
NewCath outscored opponents 1,650-1,397 last year. The Thoroughbreds hope to shoot the ball better this year to free things up for Kiernan and Mayes. NewCath made 582-of-1,461 shots for 39.8 percent including 112-of-411 from three-point land for 27.3 percent. The Thoroughbreds also made 374-of-582 free-throw tries for 64.3 percent.
“In preseason, you’re going to be a bit rusty,” Stoll said. “It will take a while to get your feet underneath you. But you can see improvement day by day. We hope that by the first game and the All ‘A’ role around, we’re getting better and better at it. I know teams are going to zone us so we have to do better with it. I think we’ll be more comfortable doing that this year.”
Senior forward Stephanie Lewis, junior guard Loren Zimmerman and sophomore guard Ansley Davenport are among those the staff is counting on to knock down more outside shots. Junior guards Michaela Ware and MiKayla Seibert also return after playing a lot last year.
Lewis averaged 6.6 points per game last year and finished third on the team with 4.7 rebounds a contest. Davenport took the most three-point shots making 26-of-96 for 27.1 percent and Ware averaged 5.8 points a game.
“For me, I’ve been working (on the outside) shot all over the summer trying to be more consistent,” Davenport said. “I hope that if it’s off, I know how to fix it. We’re not a selfish team. We look for other players too.”
A number of other players could contribute this year. Senior guard Imani Lankheit returns after seeing action in 27 games last year. Two other returning seniors are forward Nikki Matteoli and guard Chelsea Schack. Junior forwards Sarah Neace and Jamie Lohr also return for NewCath.
NewCath opens the season Monday at Dayton at 7:30 p.m. The Thoroughbreds play every 36th District opponent this year to determine seeds and will play host to the tournament in February.