The Sandusky Bay Conference takes great pride in its girls basketball programs, and for good reason:
— Margaretta has been at, or near, the top seemingly year after year under veteran coach Tim Tucker who joined the "500 Club" in wins last season despite a rare losing record (9-15).
— Perkins has vaulted into the picture by winning the conference championship three times in the last four years under Ray Neill who has produced top-flight teams in his six years at the helm.
— Clyde is still another team enjoying success in recent years although without a title since the 2000-2001 season under John Cahill. He is in his 14th season with the Fliers.
At the outset of the 2009-2010 campaign Clyde and St. Mary Central Catholic were the co-favorites with Margaretta and Perkins at the next level.
However, the Pirates ran the table (14-0) with a highly touted freshman class that never lost a game in junior high competition (7th and 8th grade games). They finished the season at 22-2 and fell in the Division II district finals to an unbeaten Tiffin Columbian -- the AP poll champs.
Margaretta also had a solid tournament season and also lost out in the Division III district title game, by one point to Western Reserve.
SMCC also reached the district (Division IV) only to fall while Clyde had the misfortune to play Perkins in the tourney opener, and was eliminated. The Panthers and Fliers shared second place at 11-3 and Margaretta was well down the list at 5-9.
Perkins returns two first-team all-conference selections in junior Jordan Fraley and sophomore Shannon Ebert, both of whom had sensational seasons. Clyde senior Kaylea Griffin rounded out the elite group (six players) a year ago.
Also coming back are four more girls who earned second-team recognition, including two from Clyde. Senior Spencer Robles and junior Rachael Smetzler were solid performers for the Fliers while junior Abbey Cox was the leading scorer for Edison and junior Sarah Weyer topped the scoring list for the Polar Bears.
The coaches talked about their teams, and outlook for the season which begins this week-end for six of the eight schools.
Neill has six letterwinners including four starters. In addition to Ebert and Fraley, Darcy Daniel and Chelsea Smith were regulars as freshmen. Fraley was the top scorer at 12.2 points a game and added three rebounds. Ebert, a tower of strength in the middle at six-foot, scored eight points and averaged 7.5 rebounds a game. Daniel tallied eight points a night and Smith 4.5 points and three rebounds.
Kayla Yost, another sophomore who played a year ago, is recovering from knee surgery and won't be available early in the season.
"There is no doubt we re going to miss Mallory Mullins who scored nine points a game and dished out quite a few assists," Neill said. "She had the ball 75 percent of the time and our main goal is to find someone with consistency and stability at the point to run the offense. We are a work in progress."
"We won a lot of close games last year with mental toughness and that is something we need again this year," said Neill who has compiled a glossy record of 122-22 in six years at the top.
Cahill is the coach with the highly publicized freshman group this time around, and that includes his daughter, Amanda, a gifted 6-foot-1. do-it-all athlete. She is joined by Breanna Michaels, Lexi Weber and Hannah Wadsworth to go along with plenty of experience in Griffin, Robles, Smetzler and other veterans like senior Alesha Dickman and Madie Harrington. Clyde finished 14-7.
The freshmen had the same success in junior high the Perkins girls had. They did not lose in either the 7th or 8th grade.
Griffin averaged 13 points while Smetzler was at 14.7 and Robles 12.8. The Fliers certainly appear to have the firepower, but Cahill's challenge is to get everyone on the same page.
"I like my team. We had a great summer and scrimmaged against some of the better teams but it will take time for the girls to accept their roles," Cahill said.
"Perkins is without a doubt the team to beat," Cahill said.
Margaretta has a wealth of talent with 10 letterwinners on the roster.
"We're leaps and bounds better now than a year ago," Tucker said. "This group did not waste the summer. We had a young team a year ago and now they have to believe they can win. I'll say this, they can all play and can all score in double figures at any time.
"Our goal is the same as always. We want to be playing in March and even though we had a losing record, we still managed to put it all together at tournament time," said Tucker who has an overall mark of 507-169 in his long tenure at Margaretta.
Junior Sarah Weyer was the top scorer and rebounder and depth is no concern. However, Tucker feels his squad must rebound better and play a more physical type of ball. Weyer (5-11) and Shannon Coy (5-10) give the Bears good size and a Tucker-coached team always applies fullcourt pressure.
"Perkins has the experience and Clyde a very good freshman class. Edison also has talent and great size and will cause a tough matchup for a lot of teams," Tucker said.
Jim Colwell begins his fourth season at Edison with six veterans from a team that was 9-13.
"We must shoot and score on the 15-footers," Colwell said. "We are big inside, and quick overall and want to press. The halfcourt game is one of the keys for us. We have to handle the presses I'm sure we are going to see."
Abbey Cox averaged 10.4 points and 10 rebounds for the Chargers and Susan Knight (5-10) was another strong rebounder, along with senior Zoe Gastier who hauled down eight rebounds a game.
"Perkins and Clyde are the teams to beat and hopefully we will be in the top four. That would be nice," Colwell said.
SMCC has an outstanding 18-4 mark a year ago, but lost four senior starters.
"Lindsay Kaatz is our only returning starter. She scored 16 points a game and also had 10 boards and is also one of the top free throw shooters in the area. She made around 93 percent from the line a year ago," coach Dave Lozier said.
"The key for us is to play well as a team and be able to handle the pressure. We have nine juniors and one sophomore on this team and I have one of the biggest teams in my five years here with a couple of six-footers to go along with Kaatz (5-11) and (Katy) Glovinsky (5-10)."
Lozier feels Perkins, Clyde and Margaretta are the top teams in what he rates, "a very good conference".
Ty Ray has six returnees from a year ago, led by 5-8 senior Lauren Volz, a first-team district 6 performer who averaged 14 points a game.
"We have to learn to believe in each other and play with confidence," Ray said. "We were last a year ago and they (coaches) picked us to be that again. Hopefully, we can surprise a few people, but the key for us is how we handle the pressure.
"Lauren is our leader and we have five seniors on this team and we some experience but we're also are smaller overall than the others."
Toby Bickel starts his eighth season at Port Clinton with a seasoned group of veterans in three seniors and three juniors.
"Juniors Meigan Day and Kenzie Payne were our leaders in points and rebounds last year and we're counting on them again," Bickel said. "Overall, we had to shoot the ball better, and get after people on defense.
"We turned the ball over way too many times and this time I would like to see us create turnovers. We'd just like to be competitive in what I consider one of the strongest conferences around."
Brad Hemminger, a 1976 graduate, takes over the girls program at Oak Harbor after 13 years as an assistant.
"We were 9-12 last year and lost a lot of close games. We are looking for a point guard, someone to protect the ball. We have some girl with varsity experience but we also have group of younger girls who need game experience, and will get that quickly," Hemminger said.
Kayla Diefenthaler, 5-10 senior three-year letter winner, is coming off a season in which she scored 10 points and added eight rebounds a game.
"Kayla is our inside threat and we have four sophomores and a freshman who will get plenty of playing time," Hemminger said.