Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
Two regional finalists, three district champions and a plethora of sectional title winners made this past basketball season well worth covering.
But those were just the highlights. To really understand how special the season was, you’d have to look back on every career-defining moment, every game-winning shot, and every net that was cut down in jubilation.
Southern Ohio Sports Authority was right there every step of the way, covering individual milestones, improbable feats and wins that changed history.
After a fun-filled year, take a look at our All-Area Team, which consists of 25 area players who were at their best throughout the winter season.
Allison Basye | Huntington | Forward | Sophomore
As one of the most explosive players in the area, Basye did nothing to tarnish that reputation as a sophomore. While running Huntington’s offense, Basye averaged a double-double of 23 points and 10 rebounds each night. She led the SVC with a 77 percent shooting percentage from the charity stripe, shot 46 percent from the floor, and set a new single-game scoring record with 41 points on Feb. 6 in a 70-31 win over Zane Trace. She was the SVC’s Player of the Year, the District 14 Coaches Player of the Year, and a second-team All-Ohio honoree.
Caitlyn Brisker | Oak Hill | Guard | Senior
Lightning in a bottle. When Brisker got hot, it was a third-degree burn hot. The Oaks’ scoring leader led them to their first sectional title since 2017 before a trip to their first district final since 2012. In her final three games, she turned in scoring performances of 27, 22 and 20 points. As impressive as those numbers are, they simulated her normal outputs all year long. Brisker didn’t have a stretch where she wasn’t magnificent. She ended the year averaging 20 points per game and earned first-team honors on the all-conference, all-district and All-Ohio teams.
Kyla Burchett | McClain | Guard | Junior
For a team that wasn’t projected to win many games, McClain certainly surpassed all expectations … and Burchett was a huge reason why. She ended the year averaging a team-high 11 points per game and led a defensively-minded Tigers squad to a 15-7 mark and a share of the FAC championship. Burchett was an all-conference selection and a second-team all-district honoree. McClain returns plenty of talent next season and Burchett leads the way.
Bri Claxon | South Webster | Guard | Sophomore
Before the season started, Claxon may not have shown up on many teams’ radars. But by the end of the year, that had drastically changed. Just a sophomore and standing just 5-foot-3, Claxon came into her own while averaging 18.5 points per game. She used an array of creative ways to get to the bucket and gave opponents fits in each game she played. She was a first-team all-district selection and earned her first career All-Ohio honor with a third-team nod in Division III. The Jeeps will undoubtedly look to her to lead the way in scoring again next season.
Emily Coleman | Unioto | Guard | Senior
Grit. Tenacity. Intensity. Coleman spent all four years of career playing with all three of those traits. The Shermans’ star guard led Unioto to a second consecutive Gold Ball and a sectional championship, thanks to a 54-42 win over River Valley. She ended the season averaging 11.4 points — a team-high — alongside 2.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game. She was a first-team all-SVC and all-district honoree and a special mention All-Ohioan. During her four-year run directing Unioto’s offense, the Shermans were 76-20 and 52-4 in SVC action.
Shawna Conger | Washington | Forward | Senior
For the entirety of the season, Conger was Washington’s top scoring option. She was also at the center of opponents’ game plans, which didn’t seem to matter much in the scoring column. Conger ended the year averaging 16.6 points per night and led the Blue Lions to 12 wins and a sectional championship — thanks to a 58-47 win over Fairfield Union, one where Conger dropped 15 points. She scored her 1,000th career point in the following district semifinal contest and earned all-conference, second-team all-district and honorable mention All-Ohio honors.
Amber Cottrill | Unioto | Guard | Senior
As the Shermans finished 19-5, Cottrill did a little bit of everything. The senior posted 9.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.6 steals per evening, displaying a model of consistency throughout the year. She also shot 34 percent from deep (30-of-87) and led the team in assists with 101. Her career totals also show the consistency factor as she ends with 651 points, 387 rebounds, 399 assists and 288 steals. While everything she contributed may not have shown on the stat sheet each night, make no mistake about it, her presence was felt.
Kaylee Darnell | Wheelersburg | Guard | Junior
With the ability to drive through the lane, shoot from mid-range and knock down the 3, Darnell continued to show exactly why she’s one of the area’s best pure scorers. As creative as they come with the ball in her hands, Darnell was the feature guard on a guard-heavy roster. At 15 points per game, Darnell was the SOC II Player of the Year, a first-team all-district selection and a third-team All-Ohioan. She scored her 1,000th career point on Feb. 3 and led the Pirates to an undefeated season in the league, and a final mark of 22-3.
Marcy Dudgeon | Westfall | Forward | Senior
Early in the year, the Mustangs couldn’t seem to get headed in the right direction. But when they started to let Dudgeon impose her will, things changed quickly. The senior forward switched into high gear midway through the season, leading Westfall to 11 wins and an 8-6 mark in the SVC. She ended the season averaging 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per night, and scored her 1,000th career point on Feb. 4. She was a second-team all-SVC selection and a third-team all-district honoree. Westfall has multiple returners next winter but will certainly miss its leader.
Emma Fouch | Fairfield | Guard | Sophomore
The first thing that jumps out about Fouch is how efficient she is. From the free throw line, she shot 87.7 percent, from the field, she shot 41.2 percent, and she knocked down 34.5 percent of her attempts from 3-point land. That helped to equal a scoring output of 14.1 points per night alongside 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists. Fouch led the Lions in scoring and earned first-team all-conference and all-district honors, as well as a special mention All-Ohio nod. Just a sophomore, Fouch is a name to keep on your radar. She’s a special talent with a bright future.
Macie Graves | Southeastern | Forward | Junior
After enjoying a successful sophomore campaign, Graves grew into one of the SVC’s brightest stars as a junior. She finished second in the league in scoring at 14 points per game while shooting 75 percent from the free throw line and 37 percent from deep. Those numbers, and Graves’ performance as a whole, helped Southeastern finish 20-5 overall and reach a Division III district semifinal, just one year after finishing 7-16. Graves was a first-team all-SVC selection and earned first-team all-district honors as well. She’ll be back for more next winter.
DeLaney Harper | North Adams | Center | Junior
Very few opponents had an answer for Harper under the bucket. North Adams’ 6-foot-1 center had a ritual of spoiling game plans and packing the stat sheet. Harper scored 14.6 points per game and spent most of her junior year double-teamed and face-guarded. In the Green Devils’ district final win, she had 13 points and 10 rebounds before posting 13 and 13 in a regional semifinal victory over Eastern Brown. You get the gist of how her season went. She was a first-team all-SHAC selection, a first-team all-district honoree and a special mention All-Ohioan.
Ava Hassel | Notre Dame | Guard | Junior
When the ball is at Hassel’s fingertips, something special is about to happen. Area fans have seen it time and time again and, even though opposing defenses know it’s coming, it’s inevitable. Hassel led the Titans on the program’s best-ever postseason run, one that ended in a Division IV regional final with a loss to Beverly Fort Frye. While the Titans went 24-3, Hassel averaged 16.4 points each night, was the SOC I Player of the Year, SOSA’s co-Player of the Year, a first-team all-district honoree and a second-team All-Ohio selection.
Skylar Hice | Southeastern | Center | Senior
After spending her junior basketball season sidelined by injury, Hice was forced to wait almost two full years to get back on the court. But when she did, it was obvious the time off hadn’t caused her to lose a step in the least bit. As the heart and soul of Southeastern’s roster, Hice averaged 12.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while shooting 73 percent from the free throw line — that’s where she really got her money’s worth. After leading her Panthers to a sectional championship, she earned first-team all-SVC and second-team all-district honors.
Jacey Justice | Peebles | Guard | Junior
There weren’t many postseason awards that Justice didn’t take home … and rightfully so. The dynamic junior posted per game averages of 26.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 4.3 steals. She was the SHAC’s Player of the Year, the Division IV Southeast District Player of the Year, SOSA’s co-Player of the Year and a first-team All-Ohioan. Each of those accolades came after she became the school’s all-time scoring leader midway through the season and led the Indians to a second consecutive district title — thanks to a 51-45 win over Trimble.
Brooke Kennedy | Manchester | Forward | Junior
Kennedy was a walking double-double, ending the year with per-game averages of 16.3 points and 11.7 rebounds per night. That’s been a regular sight throughout her career, however. She enters her senior year with 953 points and 800 rebounds. Kennedy was the key piece to a Manchester team that finished 13-11 overall and won a sectional title. She was an all-SHAC selection, a first-team all-district honoree and collected special mention All-Ohio honors.
Kasey Kimbler | Green | Guard | Sophomore
While the Bobcats enjoyed a 17-win season, they relied on Kimbler to shoulder the brunt of their scoring. The sophomore sharpshooter ended the campaign averaging 19.5 points per night and, when she was open behind the 3-point arc, chances are, she knocked down the shot. Behind their leader, Green won its first sectional crown since 2009. Kimbler was a first-team all-conference and all-district selection, and earned special mention All-Ohio honors. She’ll only get better before her junior year begins, which is a sobering thought if you have to guard her.
Rylee Leonard | Eastern Brown | Forward | Freshman
Put simply, Leonard is by far the best freshman talent in Southern Ohio. And to go a step further, it could be argued she possesses the most raw talent of any player in the area. Leonard led the Warriors in scoring with 16 points per game and was a central reason why they finished the season state-ranked at 24-2. When she’s on a path towards the basket, she’s virtually unstoppable and, if you let her have an open shot on the perimeter, it’s finding nylon. She’s the complete package with just a year of experience under her belt. That’s the scariest part.
Shay McDonald | Miami Trace | Guard | Senior
McDonald has spent the majority of her career feasting on opponents’ defenses. Nothing changed during her final season as a Panther. The FAC Player of the Year averaged 17 points per game, a league-high, and led Miami Trace to a 17-7 overall mark and a share of the league title with an 8-2 record. She led the team to a sectional title, scored her 1,000th career point near the end of the year and earned first-team all-district and special mention All-Ohio honors.
Camryn Pickerill | Eastern Brown | Guard | Senior
There’s not much Pickerill didn’t accomplish in her four-year career. From playing on a state semifinal team as a freshman to leading the Warriors to a district title this past season, Pickerill has played in tons of big games and big moments. This past winter was no different. Eastern’s Brown’s floor general averaged 10.2 points per game and earned second-team All-Ohio honors. She kept her team focused on the prize, which was ultimately a district crown in a year where the Warriors were supposed to be “down.” Pickerill was constantly at the center of that storm.
Taylor Schmidt | Notre Dame | Guard | Senior
Schmidt teamed up with the aforementioned Ava Hassel to create one of the best backcourts in Southern Ohio, if not the best. The senior ended her career averaging 10.7 points, 3.4 assists and 5.3 steals each night … all the best totals in her career. They, of course, helped the Titans win their 10th straight sectional title and third straight district championship. In Schmidt’s time with Notre Dame, the Titans went 96-8 overall and 42-0 in the SOC I. That’s simply ridiculous.
Zoiee Smith | Waverly | Guard | Junior
The three-sport star showed once again why she’s one of the best point guards in the local area, posting 13 points and five-plus assists per game during her junior basketball campaign. Before committing to the University of Rio Grande in March, Smith earned all-SOC, all-district and All-Ohio — a special mention honor — and led her Tigers to 12 wins. When she begins her senior season, as a four-year starter, she’ll be closing in on 1,000 career points.
Hannah Stark | Adena | Guard | Senior
Stark was the clear leader of a team that flipped its overall record from 6-16 to 13-10 this season. The senior averaged a team-high 11.2 points per game, 2.3 assists and 2.1 steals while shooting 31 percent from deep. Late in the game, when the Warriors needed a score, the ball was in her hands. That was evident on Dec. 10 when she scored the team’s final 12 points in a 35-33 overtime win over Huntington, a game Adena trailed in 28-23 with 1:08 left in regulation. She was a second-team all-SVC selection and received a second-team all-district nod.
Haidyn Wamsley | Northwest | Forward | Junior
In the midst of the best campaign Northwest has had in years, Haidyn Wamsley continued to show her worth in all aspects of the game. The Mohawks’ 5-foot-10 junior averaged 12 points per game this past winter and led her team to an overall mark of 20-4, and a 13-3 record inside the SOC II — no small feat. Northwest finished second in the conference and Wamsley earned first-team all-conference and all-district awards while picking up special mention All-Ohio honors. If she picks up where she left off, the Mohawks are poised to have an even better year.
Ayziah Williams | Ripley | Guard | Junior
Scoring. Machine. It’s as simple as that when you’re looking to describe Williams. She ended the year averaging 23 points, five rebounds and 3.5 steals per game. She also scored her 1,000th career point in the Jays’ final game. She was an all-SHAC selection and set a new single-game scoring record at Ripley, erupting for 49 points and breaking a 30-year record in the process. Williams, peculiarly, was not an all-district selection … but absolutely should’ve been. She was a central reason why Ripley won 13 games and is one of the area’s best scorers.
Honorable Mention Selections
Olivia Smith, Paint Valley; Cree Stulley, Unioto; Kame Sweeney, Green; Lexus Oiler, New Boston; Ellie Kallner, Wheelersburg; Alaina Keeney, Wheelersburg; Valerie Copas, Northwest; Olivia Clarkson, Oak Hill; Faith Maloney, South Webster; Livi Shonkwiler, Minford; Maddie Slusher, Minford; Morgan Rigsby, West; Bre Call, Valley; Delaney Eakins, Miami Trace; Emma Stegbauer, McClain