By Dave Pugh
This year will be the 25th anniversary of the 9th Region’s only State Champion, the Simon Kenton Pioneers. The Pioneers will be celebrating and honoring those who played on the school’s 1981 championship team.
The Simon Kenton Pioneers will be honoring that team as they move to the Eighth Region as part of the redistricting plan instituted by the KHSAA as we move into the 2005-06 season. The Pioneers will be leaving the region as well as Scott and Calvary Christian, who will both be moving to the Tenth Region.
That leaves the Ninth Region without a team that has won a state championship in boys basketball.
Since that glorious year of 1981 when the Troy McKinley-led Pioneers defeated Mason County to capture the region’s only state title, no other team has captured the title from the Ninth Region.
Covington Holmes, Covington Holy Cross, Highlands, and Covington Catholic have all made runs to the final Saturday, but none have been able to bring home the hardware to Northern Kentucky.
So who now will serve as the best opportunity to make a run for their own special “One Shining Moment” on Saturday night this year?
That task seemingly will fall into the hands of the defending Ninth Region champions, the Covington Holmes Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs will return four of their five starters and those four players will all be juniors. However, the task will not be as simple as it may seem on paper, with all the returning starters.
The Bulldogs must replace what head coach David Henley referred to as their “rock”, in 6-5 center Alexie Brown, who has taken his services to Cincinnati State this year.
The Bulldogs compiled a 24-7 record last season and had to capture the region title from the runner-up portion of the regional draw. This year the Bulldogs may not have an identical record because their schedule is very daunting.
The Bulldogs open on the road at Tenth Region favorite Pendleton County, and make trips to Scott County, the 5/3 Holiday Classic (where they open with Louisville Ballard), the Louisville Invitational Tournament and also face nationally ranked North College Hill, out of Cincinnati.
With that being said, the Dogs have a strong junior core, which should carry them throughout the season.
The Dogs backcourt will be led by arguably the best player in the region, in Duran Jefferson (5’11). Jefferson is the most dynamic Bulldog point guard since the days of former Kentucky Wildcat player Dicky Beal.
The Bulldogs also have quite possibly the most versatile low post player in Greg Rice (6’3), who dropped in 21 points in the Sweet 16 opener versus Warren Central. Rice fouled out with the Dogs leading by 5 with just over 2 minutes to go in that game and didn’t score the rest of the game as the Dragons scored the final 7 points of the game to sprint past the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs were making their first appearance in Lexington for the Sweet 16 and first appearance since 1990, when they fell in the finals to Louisville Fairdale.
The Bulldogs also have in their repertoire, Nate Edmondson, 6’1, junior, a southpaw slinging three-point shooter, who can carry a team with his streaky shooting. In addition, they have 6’1, junior Austin Hill who has really filled out physically, and can knock down open jumpers as well as attacking the basket.
The loss of Brown likely means an opportunity for key reserves in, 5’8, senior BJ Avery and up and coming jumping-jack in Arrez Henderson, 5’11 sophomore, to offset the scoring and rebounding of Brown.
The Dogs will play up-tempo and will force the issue defensively, and hope to invoke their “controlled chaos” to another return trip to Lexington. However, as it usually is in the always-competitive Ninth Region, the favorites to win the region often find themselves looking in from the outside when the regional champion is crowned.
There will be a few teams with the opportunity to knock off the Dogs in their return quest for Ninth Region glory.
Likely, the second best team in the region will be the team who defeated Holmes, twice last year, in two thrilling games, the Covington Catholic Colonels.
The Colonels knocked off the Dogs in Park Hills last season in a “white-knuckler” and finished the sweep with another hard-fought victory on the Bulldogs home floor in the district finals. The Colonels were the region favorite last year, but were surprised by Conner in the semi-finals.
This year the Colonels (23-7) must overcome the absence of the region’s best player and D-1 signee Brennan Votel (Penn). However, like the Bulldogs, the Colonels return four starters from their 35th District Championship team.
The Colonels have the firepower to match the Bulldogs backcourt strength in junior guard Todd Jacobs (6’0) and senior point guard, 6’0, Tim Tierney. Both of them can handle the basketball and knock down the perimeter shot.
Joining them in the backcourt will be junior Kurt Bovard, who will make the transition from the gridiron where he was the Colonels’ #1 receiving target.
Just how far the Colonels will go this year will depend on the continued improvement of their front-court players in center 6’4 Michael Young (Sr.), and 6’3 Billy Schult and 6’4 Sam Cahill. 6’4’’ Senior Danny Noll earned All-District honors last year, and will also be expected to step up. The Colonels do have enough firepower, particularly in the backcourt to topple the Dogs from the top spot.
Coach Ken Chevalier’s first season at Dixie Heights was a hit. The Colonels swept through district play and won more games than any other team in the region last year while also being the second-highest scoring team in the region. The Colonels lost quite a few impact players to graduation, but return enough to challenge for the region title.
The Colonels return 6’3 forward Sam Lawson, and 6’2 guard-fireplug in Josh Keener. Dixie Heights will also have some quality reserves who saw some action last year in the Colonels run to the semi-finals where they were just a few seconds short of knocking off eventual region champion Holmes. The Colonels will be the heavy favorite to sweep the 34th District again this year.
Head coach Willie Schlarman’s return to his alma mater didn’t quite create the immediate on-court success that many had forecasted with his return to Highlands.
The Birds struggled to a 9-20 record, but the record itself is misleading because the Birds lost a bevy of close games, but improved quite a bit as the season wore on, and captured the 36th District title. The Birds were a young team last year and will return all five starters this year. Point guard, 6’1, Jeff Vories, who was the team’s leading scorer, will lead the Birds. Look for the Birds to certainly improve on last year’s record.
Newport Central Catholic(20-11) lost one of the region’s top players in Mark Krebs, but return three veterans with a vast amount of game experience in guards Kevin Beuter and Scott Gesenhues. Beuter can fill it up behind the arc and Coach Rob Detzel will rely on their guards to carry them this year.
Last season the Conner Cougars rallied to a surprise regional runner-up finish, and return some key components to win the 33rd District this year. The Cougars have some height along the front-line in a pair of 6’6 juniors in Nick Brashear and Ryan Chell.
The Cougars also return guards Travis Huffman and Lance Durbin. Expect the Cougars to return to the regional tournament this year.
The Newport Wildcats (12-14) look to improve on last year’s record and return four of their top players from last year’s team.
The talented James Glenn (6’0) was a double-figure scorer from the backcourt, and 6-3 James Thomas was a double-figure rebounder. The Wildcats have a nice nucleus and could develop into the sleeper team of the region by the time tourney time rolls around.
St. Henry (11-15) lost six players to graduation last year return quite a few players with significant amounts of varsity experience.
The Crusaders will challenge for the always-rugged 33rd District. 6-1 Brandon Lenhof should provide solid guard play for the Crusaders. Ben Kolkmeier (6-2) will be counted on to anchor the post area for Coach Dave Faust’s team.
The Boone County Rebels (16-14) lost some offensive firepower from last year’s team, but return five seniors. The Rebels will be counting on 6’5 center Mike Story to anchor the front line. The success for the Rebels will depend on their ability to replace last year’s guard production.
There has been a changing of the guard at Covington Holy Cross. Long-time assistant and Holy Cross alum Eric Goetz takes over a team that finished at 17-12 last year.
The only starter returning for the Indians is 6-1 senior Nick Steenken. Jimmy Ryan, a 6’0 junior, a sweet shooting lefty will play more prominent minutes this season.
The arrival of consistent post play will determine how far the Indians go in the talented 35th District.
The Beechwood Tigers look to make it back-to-back trips to the Ninth Region Tourney, but that task has been greatly increased with the Tigers now relocating to the 35th District where they will joining Holmes, Cov. Cath. and Holy Cross.
The Tigers are led by the most underrated player in the region in 6-3 Michael Romes. Romes will carry the load for the Tigers this year and has the game to do it. Romes averaged close to a double-double last season while dropping in close to 24 ppg.
Coach Brad Wolfzorn hopes to get the Bellevue Tigers to improve on their 10-14 mark of last year. The Tigers are guard-heavy this year and, like their head coach in his playing days, are not shy about shooting the trey. The Tigers are going to have to have a bunch of them go down, if they want to crash the Ninth Region party.
The Dayton GreenDevils have not had much luck over the last few years, but Head Coach Tom Dilts has to think things will improve this year. The Devil fans yearn to remember the days of the “Father of the All-A Tournament”, and former head coach Stan Steidel.
Kroft’s ‘Devils will return a few juniors who gained valuable experience last year, and they will likely be led by guard Derrick Turner.
The Heritage Academy Eagles have run out of Capels.
With the graduation of Jackson Capel, the region’s leading scorer, much of the scoring load will now fall into the hands of junior guard B.J. Pugh.
The Trojans of Covington Latin will look to improve upon their 6-10 mark of last year. 6’4 Josh Schwartz will hold down the post, as the Trojans will look for him to carry the load.
A move into the 34th District should benefit the Ludlow Panthers this year and give them a better chance to make the region tournament now that they have escaped the 35th District and region powers Cov Cath and Holmes.
The Panthers can make some real noise in the 34th, with a solid inside/outside combo in 6’8 Dan Penick in the post and one of the best perimeter shooters in the region in Chase King.
First year head coach Cory Highfield has a really nice nucleus to work with, after his long-time mentor Joe Beard decided to hang-up the whistle.
Chris Brauch’s Lloyd Juggernauts will lean on Trent Grayson to carry the battle armor this year if the Juggs are to make it into region play.
Grayson is a solid frontcourt player who can score in a myriad of ways in the post and is a rugged rebounder.
6’6 Jeff Evans combined with Grayson give the Juggs a solid frontcourt to work with. Getting steady guard play, and perimeter shooting should open the paint-area up for these two, and that will be key.
Nate Niemi’s Ryle Raiders lost four starters from their 15-13 campaign last year.
Robbie Lykes will be the rudder that steers the Raider ship, as they head into a wide-open 33rd District. Lykes is one of the better all-around players in the region. He does a little of everything and is pretty solid.
6’4 junior Nick Nelson’s continued improvement will be a boon for the Raiders if they want to challenge for the 33rd District title.
At Villa Madonna, the graybeard of the Ninth Region, Tim Shields, will be entering his 25th season as head coach (many of those years he led the Conner Lady Cougars). Michael Schuh will be firing from the perimeter as the Blue Lightning rain down on the 34th District.
Top Players in the Region
1. Duran Jefferson, 5’11, Jr.- HOLMES - Dynamic ball handler, great vision, lock-up defender, steady shooter when needed, straw that stirs the Bulldog drink.
2. Greg Rice, 6’3, Jr.- HOLMES - Athletic post player, with outstanding reach, who can run the floor, excellent body control with a knack of scoring in close, when he wants, he can take over the post.
3. Sam Lawson, 6’3, Sr.- DIXIE HEIGHTS - Can beat you inside and out, best mid-range game of anyone in the region, solid overall game.
4. Dan Penick, 6’8, Sr.- LUDLOW - Solid post player who improved his game significantly over the summer, when the desire is there, not many post players are better in the region.
5. Todd Jacobs, 6’0, Jr.- COV. CATH. - Gunslinger who plays very hard, can drive it to the rim or bang from behind the arc.
6. Michael Romes, 6’3, Sr.- BEECHWOOD - Solid scorer, doesn’t look pretty in doing it but is effective, good slasher who moves well without the ball.
7. Tim Tierney, 6’0, Sr.- COV. CATH. - Very experienced, with a great motor, heady, quick, and solid shooter.
8. Jeff Vories, 6’1, Sr.- HIGHLANDS - Plays hard, solid handle, heady, good stroke, and sees floor and good distributor of the ball.
9. Trent Grayson, 6’3, Sr.- LLOYD - Solid post player, very quick and strong, quick off his feet.
10. James Glenn, 6’0, Sr.- NEWPORT - Quick and crafty with the ball, athletic, plays with confidence.
11. Danny Noll, 6’4, Sr.- COV. CATH. - Solid overall player with a nice mid-range game.
12. Robby Lykes , Sr.- RYLE - Does a little of everything well
13. Austin Hill, 6’1, Jr.- HOLMES - Physically maturing, with decent range and slashing ability.
14. Josh Keener, 6’2, Sr.- DIXIE - Scraps and can shoot the rock.
15. Chase King, Sr.- LUDLOW - Solid, solid shooter.
BALLIN’ IN THE NINTH REGION
Toughest Venue ….Covington Catholic High School…traditionally good teams combined with a rabid student section on the floor, form a powerful concoction. USA Today rated it the 13th best place in America to see a game. Little known fact is that Cassius Clay once fought in the present gymnasium.
Game clock winding down…you need a three pointer to tie…who are you running a play for? Todd Jacobs, COV CATH…can stroke it off screens and good enough to create space for the 19.9’er.
:06 to go…you have to go the full-length of the court…who you giving it to? Duran Jefferson, HOLMES…can push it better than anyone in the region, and has a knack for finding creases in a crowd as well as finishing at the basket.
Need the big rebound…who is getting the box and the ball? Dan Penick, LUDLOW…region’s biggest body…if his play over the summer carries over to the season, Penick should have a monster year in the post.
Lunging into the stands…diving on the floor…who is getting the most floorburns? Scott Gesenhues, NCC…scraps on the Thoroughbred Hill.
Out of bounds under…precious few ticks on the clock…game on the line…gotta get the quick deuce…who is getting it? Greg Rice, HOLMES…scratched the surface in region semis last year with a quick turnaround to hold off Dixie…when the kid wants to play, his ceiling may be the highest in the region.
$5 bucks in the wallet…got one game to see…where you heading? Jan. 26, 2006 -- David M. Evans Fieldhouse, on the campus of Covington Holmes…Cov. Cath. v. Holmes…seed game…bragging rights…could be the first of three meetings…if they were anything like the previous season’s games…can’t miss it.