Most coaches prefer to play a schedule that aligns with their skill level so their teams can be competitive and build confidence over the course of the season. Girls basketball for Wayne County high schools kicks off this week and the schedules for most area schools reflect that approach, with one notable exception.

Second-year Northeastern head coach Cody Dudley has beefed up his schedule for what he expects to be a breakout year for the Lady Knights. Dudley thinks that it is time for his Lady Knights to take the next step and make a deep run during postseason play. On the other end of the spectrum, the Seton Catholic Lady Cardinals will play a varsity schedule again after a four-year hiatus with a roster of players with zero varsity experience.  

2A Northeastern

Northeastern’s Addisen Mastriano has committed to play at Detroit Mercy. Photo by Kevin and Lora Kenworthy for NHS athletics

Northeastern improved its record to 16-9 last season, advancing to the sectional championship game only to be upset by Union County for the second year in a row. Don’t expect that to occur again this season; some key Lady Patriot players graduated, and they will have a different coach.

The Lady Knights will be the prohibitive favorite to win the 2A sectional this season, an event they will host. Northeastern has the area’s best backcourt, the area’s best frontcourt, and the area’s deepest bench. The competition for playing time will be so intense in practice that the easiest days of the week for the Lady Knights will be game day.

Seniors Nevaeh Chapman, Addisen Mastriano and Juztice Slick will be expected to provide veteran leadership for a team that is loaded with talented players.

Mastriano, a 6-foot-3-inch post player who averaged 12.1 points per game, 9.3 rebounds per game and 3.4 blocks per game last season, has committed to play collegiate basketball for Detroit Mercy.  Slick, a 5-foot-9-inch wing who averaged 8.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg and 2.1 steals per game last season, is committed to play collegiate ball at Indiana University East.  

Northeastern’s Juztice Slick averaged 8.2 points last season. Photo by Kevin and Lora Kenworthy for NHS athletics

The backcourt duo of Ava Mikesell and Adysson Kircher also returns. Mikesell, a junior who averaged 10.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg and 3.8 spg, and Kircher, a sophomore who averaged a team-high 13.6 ppg and 3.0 spg last season, are both cat quick with deep shooting range.  

When Coach Dudley goes to his bench the level of play will remain high. Brooklynne Adams, Cami Angie, Chapman, Gracie Green and Ariel Shuler are all proven varsity players. Freshmen Amiyah Davis and Karri Gammon will join the mix. Senior Sady Gammon will also be playing for the first time.

The Lady Knights will play a challenging schedule, with seven 3A schools, as well as 4A schools Anderson and Muncie Central included in their regular season games. They will also host an eight-team holiday tournament on Dec. 27 and 28 that will include 4A schools East Central and Fort Wayne Wayne.     

The Lady Knights will open regular season play with a trip to face the Yorktown Lady Tigers on Saturday, Nov. 4.

1A Cambridge City Lincoln

The Lady Eagles compiled a record of 5-16 last season. Head coach Garry Laymon will have experienced players in place to see the win column increase this season.

Laymon will return eight players who played in at least 12 varsity games a year ago. Three others appeared in between three and nine games last season, and it is probable that at least one freshman could quickly develop into an impact player.

Lincoln’s Addyson Pitcock averaged 5.2 points last season. Photo by Rachel Moore

Elliott Jones (7.2 ppg) and Alivia Anderson (6.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg) are the top returning scorers, but Addyson Pitcock (5.2 ppg) and Lexi McPheeters (3.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg) are both expected to increase this offensive production. Anderson, Jones and Pitcock are all long-range sharpshooters who can stretch opposing defenses.

The Lady Eagles lack size, so getting good rebounding position and blocking out will be key. If they do that, they will have the speed to play at a fast pace. Samantha Lilley will be the tallest Eagle at 5 feet, 8 inches tall.

The Lady Eagles will be at home for their first two games. They will host Anderson Preparatory Academy on Friday, Nov. 10, and Seton Catholic on Saturday, Nov. 11.

3A Centerville

The Lady Bulldogs compiled a record of 6-14 last season, their best record in the last three seasons. Second-year head coach Tyler Frame implemented his style of play and improved the fundamental understanding of his players in his first year at the helm. Frame hopes to see his team start to reap the rewards this season.

Former Lady Bulldogs leading scorer and rebounder Gabby Duke graduated, but they will return nine players who logged varsity minutes last season. Olivia Hunter (5.9 ppg), Makenna Hartman (3.6 ppg) and Anna Davis (3.1 ppg) are expected to significantly increase their scoring this season.

The Lady Bulldogs open regular-season play on Saturday, Nov. 4, hosting Randolph Southern.

2A Hagerstown

Veteran Chris Oliger, in his 22nd year as the Lady Tiger head coach, will face a numbers problem, or more specifically, a lack of numbers problem this year. The program will not field a junior varsity team this season.

Kasiti Ferriell is Hagerstown’s most experienced varsity player entering the 2023-24 season. WWN file photo

The Lady Tiger varsity compiled a 7-16 record last season and graduated three players, two of which were key starters.  The Lady Tigers return five players with some varsity experience, but they will lack size. Only one of the five is taller than 5-foot-6.

Hagerstown teams under Oliger have always brought notable defensive pressure, and this team will also stress defense, but they will likely struggle to score on the offensive end. The Lady Tigers only scored more than 49 points in a game once last season.

At least three of the roster players have never played high school basketball before this season.

Senior Kasiti Ferriell is the most experienced returnee and will be a team leader. Junior Havannah Harris and sophomore Elly Cheeseman are capable offensive players. Avery Blunk and Bella Thalls showed improvement over the course of last season and are also expected to contribute.  

The Lady Tigers will open their season on the road with a game at Indianapolis Scecina on Wednesday, Nov. 8.

4A Richmond

Second-year Richmond head coach Clay Bolser will return several players from last year’s team that compiled a record of 6-16, but the leading scorer and rebounder from last season, Madison Sonsini (14.4 ppg, 4-8 rpg), is now a student at Greenfield-Central.

Kiarra Handley (22), Cami Turpin (10), Amari Jackson (12) and Mar- en Bolser (24) all return for Richmond. Photo by Dan Harney

The Lady Red Devils return a veteran core group of players, and the roster is still young.

Kiarra Handley, Savannah Hilbert and Cami Turpin played in all 22 games last season. Sabrina Brown and Ja’Lana Long saw action in 21 games. Maren Bolser, Amari Jackson and Jayden Johnson appeared in at least 18 games. Only Brown is a senior.

Bolser returns the highest scoring average at 7.3 ppg, but the Lady Red Devils’ quickness on defense should lead to offense.  

The Lady Red Devils will open regular-season play in the friendly confines of the Tiernan Center when they host New Castle on Wednesday, Nov. 1.

1A Seton Catholic

Seton Catholic last played girls basketball at the high school level during the 2018-19 season. First-year Lady Cardinal head coach Troy Titus will try to re-establish a varsity program with a roster of players who have never played in a varsity basketball game. That is not to suggest that the Lady Cardinal roster will not include talented players, but their players will not have prior varsity experience to fall back on.

Seton Catholic will not play a junior varsity schedule.

The Lady Cardinals will face a strong test in their season opener on Friday, Nov. 10, when they host 2A Park Tudor, 15-game winners in each of the last two seasons, in a Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference game.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 1 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Dan Harney is a sports reporter at the Western Wayne News.