Will the 9th Region see a repeat performance from the Cooper Jaguars in March? Or will the Colonels of Covington Catholic use a deep, talented roster to avenge last season’s loss to Cooper in the regional championship game and earn a trip to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015?

Those are the two questions many 9th Region fans are asking as the 2017-18 season approaches, as Cooper and CovCath appear to be the overwhelming favorites. Cooper (31-5 last season) returns three starters from its state runner-up squad, including talented senior guard Adam Kunkel (16.3 points per game). The Jaguars also have Braydon Runion (10.1 ppg) as an experienced option on offense.

CovCath, meanwhile, welcomes back four starters from a 29-6 team that dropped a 51-38 decision to Cooper in the 9th Region championship game at BB&T Arena. It was CovCath’s only loss to a 9th Region team last season, but a setback that cost the Colonels a trip to Rupp Arena and the Sweet 16.

CovCath features one of the state’s top players in senior guard C.J. Fredrick, who averaged 19.7 points per game last season. The Colonels also have 7-foot center Jake Walter inside and a host of talent at each position.

Newport and Newport Central Catholic both have solid teams and could cause problems for either Cooper or CovCath by the time March rolls around. Newport returns standout guards MeKell Burries and Donnie Miller, while NewCath welcomes back talented scorer Brennan Hall. Holmes and Conner could surprise and are the potential sleepers this season.

Here’s a look at the 9th Region for 2017-18:

1. Covington Catholic (29-6) – When most high schools lose a four-year starter who is also their all-time leading scorer, they usually don’t receive a No. 1 ranking the next season. Not so at Covington Catholic, which loses all-time leading scorer and four-year starter Cole VonHandorf (17.6 ppg last season). Despite the loss of VonHandorf, the Colonels return a loaded roster. C.J. Fredrick (University of Iowa commit) will be considered the leader this season. Fredrick averaged 19.7 points per game and is considered one of the top players in the state. Covington Catholic returns four starters (75 percent of its of scoring) from last year. Many consider this the best senior class ever at Covington Catholic. The Colonels also return Aiden Ruthsatz (Christian Brothers commit) and his 13.0 ppg; A.J. Mayer (Miami University football recruit) and his 11.4 ppg; and big man Jake Walter (Xavier commit), who averaged 6.8 ppg. Many believe that Coach Scott Ruthsatz has one of the deepest benches in the state.

2. Cooper (31-5) – Coach Tim Sullivan returns three starters from last season’s 9th Region champions that lost to eventual state champion Bowling Green. Cooper losses two big seniors to graduation in Sean McNeil (17.0 ppg) and Dante Hendrix (7.8 ppg), but the Jaguars return one of the top players in the region in Adam Kunkel. A Belmont University signee, Kunkel averaged 16.3 ppg as a junior and is considered one of the 9th Region’s best players. Cooper returns a great deal of experience and scoring in Brayden Runion (10.1 ppg), Chris McNeil (6.2 ppg) and Blaine Walters (5.9 ppg). Cooper also adds Holy Cross transfer Ty Houston to the backcourt. Houston averaged 8.5 ppg at Holy Cross last season.

3. Newport (16-17) - Despite a loss to Cooper in the regional semifinals, Coach Rod Snapp knew his future looked bright as he played a number of underclassmen. Newport returns much of its scoring from last season and many believe this Wildcat team will be the best in several years. Newport is led by one of the most athletic players in the 9th Region in MeKell Burries. Burries averaged 18.2 ppg as a junior and is a great outside shooter. Newport also returns junior guard Donnie Miller (13.2 ppg) and forward Tahj Harding (11.1 ppg). Newport figures to challenge NewCath for the district title, but the Wildcats have struggled mightily in head-to-head matchups against the Thoroughbreds during the past 10 years.

4. Newport Central Catholic (21-13) - Coach Ken Collopy loses five seniors from last season’s team, but NewCath returns talented guard Brennan Hall. Hall averaged 14.9 ppg as a junior and is a tremendous scorer. Brendan Luken (6.6 ppg), Stephen Pangallo (4.1 ppg) and Jalen McDaniel (4.1 ppg) could be keys as well. Collopy will rely on a number of players with limited varsity experience to complement Hall’s scoring.

5. Holmes (12-17) - Some 9th Region observers believe this will be Coach Mike Listerman’s last season on the Holmes sidelines. After last season’s first-round loss in the districts, Holmes will try to bounce back behind the scoring of Raavia Commodore (9.1 ppg) and Jarrod Miller (9.4 ppg).

6. Conner (15-12) - Conner loses the scoring of Spencer Hemmerich (21.0 ppg), whose senior year ended with a heartbreaking loss to Ryle in first round of the district. Coach Matthew Otte will depend on senior Tanner Craddock (13.0 ppg) to lead the Cougars, who hope to qualify for the regionals this season.

7. Dixie Heights (26-7) – A new era begins at Dixie Heights as Roger Stainforth enters his first season as head coach of the Colonels. Stainforth will rely on senior guard Tyler Scrheck (9.1 ppg) as the Colonels lost most of their scoring to graduation. A a number of underclassmen that made the regional championship games in both junior varsity and freshmen tournaments last year will also be keys for Dixie Heights.

8. Boone County (8-22) - Many believe Boone County could be the most improved team this season. Coach Greg McQueary returns quality experience in Ethan Hayes (10.8 ppg), Ethan Robbins (9.9 ppg) and Raymond Rodgers (9.8 ppg).

9. St. Henry (6-21) - Coach Dave Faust has one of the most talented freshmen classes in the region. The big question will be: How many of them will play varsity this season? Faust loses top scorer Stephen Maley (12.1 ppg) to graduation and will have to depend on Mitch McArtor (6.0 ppg) and Michael Schaefer (5.8 ppg) to challenge for a return to the regional tournament after not qualifying last season.

10. Ryle (15-18) – Coach David McFarland will depend on Vince Rankin (10.7 ppg) after losing top scorer Braden Cheeseman (14.4 ppg) to graduation. In order for Ryle to have a successful season, the Raiders need good production from a very talented junior class.

11. Beechwood (15-13) - Coach Erik Goetz returns standout junior Ben Toebbe (18.9 ppg) from a team that dropped a heartbreaking game to Holy Cross in the first round of last season’s district. Beechwood will also depend on freshman Scotty Draud, who averaged 7.9 ppg last season for the Tigers as an 8th-grader.

12. Lloyd (22-11) - Coach Sam Volpenhein loses 71 percent of his scoring from last season’s district runner-up. Lloyd has an inexperienced team, but the Juggernauts will depend on seniors Jamal Neal (8.3 ppg), Isaiah Voet (6.9 ppg) and Evan Molitor (5.2 ppg) for a return trip to the 9th Region tournament.

13. Highlands- (12-17)- Coach Kevin Listerman loses a lot of scoring from last season’s team. Listerman needs to find replacements after losing Kyle Finfrock (13.9 ppg) and Bryce Traylor (8.9 ppg) to graduation. The Bluebirds have a solid nucleus of young players and will need them to develop quickly if they are to earn a berth in the 9th Region tournament.

14. Bellevue (7-24) - Coach Jim Hicks welcomes back an experienced lineup from a squad that lost to Dayton in first round of the district last season. Bellevue will depend on the scoring of Brett Maehren (16.9 ppg), Tommy Ratterman (12.8 ppg), and Eric Atkins (8.8 ppg) after only winning seven games from last year.

15. Holy Cross (10-19) - Holy Cross must regroup after losing a number of players to both graduation and transfer. Coach Ryan Schrand returns guards Nolan Schrand (11.1 ppg) and Parker Zimmerman (10.1 ppg) to the lineup.

16. Ludlow (12-16) - Ludlow loses T.C. Eads (10.2 ppg) to graduation but returns one of the most talented athletes in Northern Kentucky in Justin Blackburn (8.4 ppg). Senior center Jacob Bridges returns after averaging 8.1 ppg as a junior.

17. Dayton (13-19)- After winning 13 games last year, Coach Brian Volpenhein will have to replace its two top scorers in Draven Garcia (15.4 ppg) and Adrian Hall (12.1 ppg). Volpenhein will depend on eight seniors to follow up on last year’s first-round district win against Bellevue.

18. Villa Madonna (12-26) - Coach Nathan Dilts must replace Thomas Schultzman (16.2 ppg) and Will Martin ( 9.4 ppg) in the starting lineup. Villa Madonna will look to senior guard Sean McIntrye (12.2 ppg) to lead the Blue Lightning scoring attack this season.

19. Heritage Academy (2-24) - Heritage will try to improve after winning two games from last season. The Eagles, who began last season with 16 consecutive losses, later recorded victories against Covington Latin and Walden.


Top Ten Players in the 9th Region

1.) C.J. Fredrick, Covington Catholic (University of Iowa commit) – Fredrick averaged 19.7 points a game last season. Many believe that Fredrick is a top contender to win Mr. Basketball in Kentucky this season.

2.) Adam Kunkel, Cooper (Belmont University commit) – Kunkel returns after averaging 16.3 ppg and leading Cooper to the 9th Region championship. The senior guard is another 9th Region standout who could be in the running for Mr. Basketball in Kentucky.

3.) Jake Walter, Covington Catholic (Xavier University commit) – The hulking 7-footer returns after averaging 6.8 ppg as a junior, and he could be a dominant force inside as a senior. After having a successful summer in AAU competition, Walter signed to play basketball at Xavier.

4.) MeKell Burries, Newport - The talented senior guard returns after averaging 18.2 ppg last year and is a reason Newport could challenge for the regional title. Burries also drained a team-leading 98 shots from 3-point range as a junior.

5.) Brennan Hall, Newport Central Catholic – An outstanding scorer, Hall is NewCath’s most experienced player and will key the ‘Breds offense.

6.) Aiden Ruthsatz, Covington Catholic - A three-year starter, Ruthsatz averaged 13.0 ppg last season. The senior guard will try and help the Colonels reach the Sweet Sixteen after losing to Cooper in last season’s regional championship.

7.) A.J. Mayer, Covington Catholic – Mayer averaged 11.4 ppg as a junior and will be a key once he finishes playing for the CovCath football team. The Colonels will not only rely on Mayer for scoring, but they will also depend on him on his rebounding after averaging 8.0 rpg. Mayer is a Miami University football recruit.

8.) Donnie Miller, Newport – Miller averaged 13.2 ppg as a sophomore, and the talented guard is one of the top juniors in the 9th Region.

9.) Brayden Runion, Cooper – The senior guard returns after having a successful averaging 10.1 ppg last season and helping Copper win the 9th Region championship.

10). Ben Toebbe, Beechwood - The junior forward returns after leading Beechwood in scoring last season at 18.9 ppg. Toebbe also averaged 7.8 rebounds per game and shot 55.2 percent from the field.