Tuesday, March 06, 2001

Cincinnati girls regional preview

St. Ursula to challenge Ohio's best

By Dave Schutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Monica Naltner leads St. Ursula against Beavercreek.
(Mike Simons photo)
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        Why bother making the 124-mile round trip? They have little or no chance. The game will be over before halftime.

        If the St. Ursula girls basketball players believe those kind of comments, they may want to remain home and study Wednesday rather than show up at Wright State University's Nutter Center.

        Coach Tim Ballinger's Bulldogs, the surprise team in the Division I regional, are matched against undefeated Beavercreek — ranked No. 1 in Ohio by the Associated Press — in a semifinal game at 8 p.m.

        In the 6:15 p.m. opener Wednesday, defending state champion Mason meets Mercy.

        The winners advance to Saturday's noon championship game.

        “Why not play the team that's supposed to win it all?” Ballinger said. “We're on a roll, and we've played our best basketball the past three games.”

        En route to the regional tournament, the Bulldogs defeated three seeded teams, Colerain (5), Lakota West (4) and Seton (8).

        But Beavercreek is another story.

        The Beavers feature Alison Bales, a 6-foot-6 sophomore center who dominates underneath. The supporting cast, all returning starters, includes double-figure scorers Tiffany Webb and Emily Williams.

        “We match up fairly well with the other four starters, but we can't do anything close to matching Bales,” Ballinger said. “The key is to stop the entry pass. Once she gets the ball, there's nothing we can do.”

        St. Ursula counters with Monica Naltner (13.8 points), Kalee Grogan, Kristy Mahon (10.8 points), Katie Connaughton and Amy Schroeder.

        Some also predict Mercy will end Mason's season, and Mason coach Gerry Lackey does express concern.

        “Mercy is so balanced, and they have eight or nine girls who play well,” he said. “They're not going to make mistakes or give you easy baskets.”

        Mason is basically a two-player team, with Michelle Munoz (23.5 points) and Jere' Issenmann (14.0) leading the way. Nicole Stein, Rachael Minnich and Stacy Shull must contribute from the perimeter for Mason.

        Mercy coach Mary Jo Huismann has one of her typically balanced teams. The Bobcats, ranked No. 3 in the Cincinnati Enquirer's Division I final poll, are led by Siobhan Zerilla, a 5-foot-9 senior transfer from Pittsburgh who averages 12.5 points.

        “Mason has two of the best players in the state,” Huismann said. “Michelle will be hard to slow down, and we'll have to stop the outside shooting.”

        “People don't think we should be here,” Huismann added. “They're the defending state champions, and there won't be any pressure on us.”

        Mason and Mercy have played only once. Mason defeated the Bobcats in a Division I district championship game four years ago.

        In the Division II regional semifinals tonight at Vandalia Butler, McNicholas and Badin will be underdogs against two of Dayton's best teams.

        The opening game has Badin playing Dayton Dunbar, which relies heavily on Joy Johnson (17 ppg) and Shermeca Howard (13 ppg.).

        Badin's strength is defense, with the Rams holding three tournament opponents to 35 or fewer points. Senior center Cydney Overton and Angela Vilkoski are Badin's top scoring threats.

        McNicholas must find a way to slow down Trotwood Madison's Tiffanie Guthrie, the Southwest District Player of the Year who averages 19.4 points.

        “Guthrie is going to Illinois, and she's the real deal,” McNicholas coach Rob Heise said.

        Ashley Clark (16.5 ppg) is McNick's major scoring threat. Point guard Kendra Hornschemeier and Lynn Oberschmidt also play key roles.

        Wyoming's Division III semifinal regional game Wednesday (8 p.m.) against Sparta Highland at Vandalia Butler may be a breather for coach Deb Gentile's Cowboys.

        “We have a little size advantage, and I'm not sure they can handle our speed,” Gentile said. “But we must handle their press.”

        For Wyoming, the inside-outside combination of guard Jenni McGee (14.6 ppg) and 6-foot-3 center Maria McCarthy (14.6) are the major weapons. Mary Bell, Laura Verhaeghe and Monica Hoyles are also capable of scoring in double figures.

        The winners advance to the regional championship game at the respective sites on Friday (Division II) and Saturday (Division I and III).

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