BERLIN, OH. -- It's hard to find a better-run event than the Classic in the Country Challenge.
Now in its 10th year, this wonderfully organized production was held at Hiland High School in Berlin OH over the three-day Martin Luther King weekend, and tournament organizer Tom Jenkins has the event mapped out in every detail. Basketball fans especially appreciate the careful matchups -- though this year, several significant injuries were an issue -- but the program book (full of local advertisement), the media seating overlooking the court, detailed box scores (similar to a college release), and even the well-rehearsed halftime entertainment all add to the flavor.
With Hiland High School athletics getting 50% of the profits (25% goes specifically toward the girls basketball program and the other 25% going toward other Hiland High School athletic expenses) from the event, there's no shortage of volunteers from the community to make sure this event runs without a hitch. The result of all this is to create an environment where girls' basketball feels important to the young ladies participating. The arena, which holds more than 1,500, was regularly at least two-thirds full, and near capacity when local teams West Holmes and host Hiland took the court Even more amazing was that the crowd generally turned over about twice, meaning more than 3,000 were at the event each day. (One could only wish every girl playing the sport could experience an environment similar to this during her prep career.)
Key games involving teams in or having been mentioned in one or more national rankings…
Fairmont (Kettering OH) 43, Regis Jesuit (Aurora CO) 35
Both teams came in to the contest undefeated (12-0) and the game was close during the first half. Shooting the ball better in the second half, Fairmont led 32-24 after three quarters and maintained a similar lead to the conclusion of the game. The Firebirds' defensive help in the paint was particularly impressive, and as would be appropriate being in Big Ten country, Fairmont appeared to be the physically stronger team. Star of the game was Fairmont’s Kathryn Westbeld with 21 points and 15 boards. Juniors Justine Hall and Kelsi Lidge with nine points each led Regis Jesuit.
Twinsburg OH 45, Reynoldsburg OH 38
Twinsburg, two-time state champion in the largest size class, came in undefeated at 15-0 while Reynoldsburg was 15-1 (having lost to Bishop Ford of New York). The thinking on press row was that the more veteran Reynoldsburg was the favorite coming into the game and after one quarter, Reynoldsburg was up 12-6. Twinsburg pulled ahead 22-19 at half, but Reynoldsburg wsa in control 35-30 after three quarters. In the fourth quarter, Reynoldsburg scored but thee points (out of six foul shots) as the state champs roared past them once again. Reynoldsburg took several unnecessary bad shots when still in control to compound its foul shooting woes. Once in front in the last few minutes of the game, Twinsburg was much better with the ball and made six of eight from the charity stripe. Ashley Morrissette topped Twinsburg with 20 points while Reynoldsburg was led by 6-3 junior post Alyssa Rice with 17 points -- but she had just three rebounds in a game where her team lost the board battle 31-20.
(L-R) Ashley Morrissette of Twinsburg, Kathryn Westbeld of Fairmontand Stasha Carey of Midpark were all standout players at the Classic in the Country. (Photos by Bob Corwin)
Some of the top performing players in the event…
Nina Davis, 5-11 power forward, Memphis Central TN
During her most recent club basketball season, Davis got multiple mentions on Full Court playing for Tennessee Flight Silver. The most impressive thing about her game continues to be that she never takes a possession off regardless of how things are going for her team, which split two games while at the Classic (winning 63-56 versus short-handed Princeton of Cincinnati and losing 72-47 to Reynoldsburg). Davis went for 29 points and 14 boards in the first contest and 25 points and 10 rebounds versus Reynoldsburg. Most encouraging for this Baylor signee was that she showed more range, hitting a few from midkey rather than just scoring at the rim.
Ashley Morrissette, 5-9 guard, Twinsburg OH
Morrissette, a Purdue signee, may not be in the Full Court Fresh 50 but she would probably rank very high up in the ‘iron will refuse to lose’ category.
“I think I get that from my dad. He’s so stubborn," said Morrissette. "I didn’t want to let my team down. I knew we could win [referring to the comeback win versus Reynoldsburg].”
She went for 20 points, five rebounds and four assists in an easy win versus Princeton and 20 points (including six in the fourth quarter comeback) versus Reynoldsburg.
Stasha Carey, 6-3 center, Midpark (Middleburg Heights OH)
Carey, with a medium-solid build and fairly wide shoulders that should be able to carry more muscle, is a prototype major Division I low-post prospect. She catches and finishes well (eight of nine for 18 points and 12 rebounds in her team’s 54-46 win over Withrow of Cincinnati) in the lower key and is a good rebounder. She also is an above average passer but still could add more shooting range. For college she is still very open but claims to currently being most intensely pursued by Michigan and Xavier.
Kristen Confroy, 5-8 shooting guard, Solon OH
Confroy is a player you probably need to see several times to fully gauge her game. In some contests, she is primarily a perimeter (including three-point shots) shooter. In an exciting 49-48 win over Pickerington North, though, it was her textbook pull-up jumper that was most impressive, followed by an ability to drive to the basket as she finished with 20 points and five rebounds. For college, she is down to deciding between Duquesne and Maryland.
Justine Hall, 5-10 shooting guard, Regis Jesuit (Aurora CO)
With medium build, Hall has a solid perimeter stroke combined with above average athleticism. In a 69-40 win over Canton McKinley High School, she cut lose for 23 points (including three threes). Postgame, she indicated Denver and Gonzaga have already offered her scholarships. She has good bloodlines as her father Darryl played in the NFL for the 49ers and Broncos.
Kelsey Mitchell, 5-7 guard, Princeton (Cincinnati)
“I have played two and half games [this season]. I hurt my fifth metatarsal on my left foot,” said the highly regarded Mitchell, but she expects to be playing again at about the beginning of February. As to college choices, Kelsey (number four in the Full Court 2014 Fresh 50) claims to have no list. “I just want to play” she repeated a few times.
“I would definitely like to go [to college] with my [twin] sister [Chelsea, also a guard on Princeton’s team], but if we have to break apart we will.”
Kathryn Westbeld, 6-2 power forward, Fairmont (Kettering OH)
Westbeld has the solid build that major Division I coaches love. She is physical, smart, intense and a good finisher in traffic. She notched double-doubles (21 points and 15 rebounds versus Regis, and 16 points and 14 rebounds in a 67-47 win over Wadsworth) in both her team’s Classic wins.
For college, she has not narrowed down her list, although she is considering a business major at the next level.
Kendall McCoy, 6-0 small forward, Northview (Sylvania OH)
With medium build and fairly wide shoulders, McCoy runs well and as a nice skill set as a wing to baseline player. While scoring 16 points, she showed the ability to drive to the basket, shoot at midrange and hit a couple of threes in her team’s 52-35 loss to Hathaway Brown of Ohio. As a young player, she now needs to refine her skills to finish a higher percentage of her shots. Look for her to receive major Division I offers in the future.
Emily Thomas, 5-6 guard, Pickerington North OH
Thomas is just coming off a broken ankle from her fall soccer season but you would not know it by her high energy and fearless play on the court. She scored 16 points, including the tying three to send the game (lost to Solon 49-48) into overtime. At what level she will play in college will probably depend on how her body develops physically, but toughness and strong motor will not be questions.
Akienreh Johnson, 6-0 small forward, Rogers (Toledo OH)
Although just a freshman, Johnson had college coaches focused on her from pretty early in her team’s 55-48 loss to Winton Woods of Cincinnati. She possesses a lanky athletic build not yet fully filled out, but her skill set is already high, showing intermediate range jumpers and threes. The line from high major programs will be queuing up for one of the top 2016 prospects in Ohio.
Markayla Sherman, 5-4 point guard, Princeton (Cincinnati)
It was not a good weekend for Princeton , which dropped both contests (to Memphis Central 63-56 and to Reynoldsburg 72-47). However, a bright note was the diminutive Sherman, who showed a decent set of handles and an ability to shoot the three (hit three in scoring 11 points versus Memphis Central). She has a chance to be the next significant player out of Princeton after Kelsey Mitchell.
Of course, there were many more players present than just the ones we highlighted, and many more teams as well -- which is tremendously positive. In an era when violence in our schools is too often getting more notoriety than sporting events, and school spirit is fading in many larger cities and suburbs, it was quite refreshing to see an event so well run, with so much community involvement, and featuring so much quality basketball.
In short, the Classic in the Country was something very special.