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Inside Look: COVID-19 not stopping rural and private schools from playing

By Zach Fleer, 12/16/20, 3:45PM EST


We take a look at the best teams that have been active during a shutdown period of hoops

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As Columbus City Schools waits to get the clear to return to basketball activities, other area high school programs across the area are going full steam ahead with games and practices. Nearly half of the Central District has yet to play a game, meanwhile other programs like River Valley, Horizon Science and Worthington Christian have played at least seven games already.

While the season has yet to hit a point where the bulk majority of teams are playing, we wanted to take a closer look at some of the programs, both boys and girls, who are playing at a high level.

We’ll start off with our COVID-19 Power Poll.

This is for teams who have been active since the season started and have played AT LEAST THREE games. While there are other teams like Newark (1-1) and Logan Elm (2-0) who have looked really good thus far, we wanted to simplify this poll and include teams that have played at least three games and are still active and not currently quarantined. 

Covid-19 Boys Top 10

1. Worthington Christian (7-0)
Best wins: vs. #3 Johnstown, vs. Chillicothe Unito, at Adena, vs. River Valley
The Warriors are ROLLING right now, accepting games against anyone under the sun. DJ Moore and Tyler Kindberg have powered the offense while role players like Kobe Buford and Isaiah Hazelwood have been excellent. This is a Division III state championship type roster. We really believe that.

2. Olentangy Liberty (3-0)
Best wins: at Canton McKinley
Liberty made quick work of the Zanesville Tip-Off Classic, outscoring Marietta and Athens by a combined 94 points. The Patriots followed that up a week later when they went on the road and knocked off a very talented Canton McKinley team with a couple Division I prospects. Liberty can make an early statement in the OCC-Central when they host Hilliard Bradley on Friday. 

3. Johnstown (3-1)
Best wins: vs. Heath, at Licking Heights
The Johnnies’ only blemish this season is a one-point loss at Worthington Christian on a questionable last second foul call. Seniors Gavin Foe and Jake Lusk are experienced and hungry for a second-straight district title in Division III. The Johnnies will be challenged on Thursday against Granville. 

4. Harvest Prep (4-0)
Best wins: at Fisher Catholic
If you thought Harvest Prep was going to take a step back this year, you were wrong. The Warriors have blown the doors off MSL-Cardinal competition this year by an average of 64 points per game….yes, you read that right. While they may not have a player like CJ Anthony to average 30+ points per game, the Warriors are well coached and have a deep rotation of guys who can put the ball in the bucket. 

5. North Union (4-0)
Best wins: vs. Bellefontaine, at Urbana
The Wildcats have won 26-straight regular season games dating back to Feb. 20, 2019. After going last year unbeaten until the district finals, North Union looks to be strong once again as the duo of Zach Vernon and Preston Crabtree have powered them. We could see North Union going unblemished and without a major challenge until they head to Jonathan Alder on Jan. 12. 

6. Olentangy (2-1)
Best wins: at Fremont Ross, vs. River Valley
The Braves are two points away from being 3-0 this year, falling in their opener at home against Buckeye Valley on Dec. 5. Olentangy struck back with two-straight wins over Fremont Ross and River Valley over the last several days, as junior guard Ethan Smith and senior forward Tavian James have led the way. The Braves can open up OCC-Cardinal play in quality fashion with games at Hilliard Darby and home against undefeated Olentangy Berlin.

7. Olentangy Berlin (4-0)
Best wins: vs. River Valley, at Watkins Memorial
Coming into this season, Berlin had won just seven games combined in their first two years of existence. Behind the play of freshman guard Derek Goodman, the Bears will have a shot to eclipse that mark before the calendar turns to 2021. Berlin will be tested heavily out of the gates in OCC-Cardinal play when they travel to both Dublin Jerome and Olentangy this weekend. 

8. Lancaster (3-0)
Best wins: at Granville, at Licking Heights
2020 is crazy. The Browns are 9-4 and in position to make the playoffs, Olentangy Berlin is 4-0 and Lancaster is 3-0. The Golden Gales have been very solid out of the gates, taking down Licking Heights and Granville on the road in close games. We’ll see if Lancaster is for real this weekend when they take on Reynoldsburg and Central Crossing to open OCC-Buckeye play.

9. Fredericktown (4-0)
Best wins: vs. East Knox, vs. Cardington
The Freddies are a major threat to win the KMAC this year, a conference where very few games have been postponed or cancelled. The senior laden group is experienced and has a go-to scorer in senior Lincoln Cunningham. Fredericktown will be challenged by a fellow Division III contender in Columbus Academy when they hit the road to face the Vikings on Dec. 30.

10. Centerburg (4-0)
Best wins: vs. East Knox, vs. Northmor
Centerburg is looking to go back-to-back as KMAC champs after splitting the league title with Northmor last year. The Trojans made quick work of the Golden Knights in their opening game of the year on Dec. 4. We’ll see what Centerburg is made of when they host Worthington Christian a week from today.

On the girls scene, we have seen a few teams out in Licking County take the area by storm. Newark, Granville and Watkins Memorial are a combined 16-0 and have yet to be really challenged. With some of the top players and teams residing in the Mid-State League, we’ve also been able to see top teams like Berne Union, Worthington Christian and Circleville. Let’s take a look at our COVID-19 Power Poll, with the same rules applying as above.

Covid-19 Girls Top 10

1. Newark (4-0)
Best wins: at Shaker Heights Laurel, at Magnificat, at Penn (IN)
The Wildcats have been road warriors to begin the year, winning all four games away from home against quality competition. Newark traveled more than four hours to Northwest Indiana and knocked off a really good Penn team by a score of 61-59 this past Saturday. We’ll see if they can remain unbeaten when they take on rival Pickerington Central, on the road once again, on Saturday. Senior Emma Shumate is arguably the best player in the area, boys or girls. 

2. Granville (7-0)
Best wins: vs. Olentangy Orange, at Heath
Granville is LOADED this season as the Blue Aces have a deep roster of talented guards, wings and bigs. Sophomore guard Ella Wigal has been amazing to begin the year, while senior guard Lainie Hilaman and junior guard Cate Schieber have provided valuable impact. Granville has won every game by an average of 31 points per game, dominating LCL competition so far. Friday’s matchup at Watkins Memorial will be a huge one in the early going of the season.

3. Circleville (3-0)
Best wins: at Teays Valley, vs. Bloom-Carroll
The defending district champions have been strong out the gates in the MSL-Buckeye. While they’ve won two of their three games by six points or less, the Tigers have a great duo in seniors Kenzie McConnell and Jaylah Captain. There’s reason to believe that they could roll undefeated once again in the regular season.

4. Berne Union (6-0)
Best wins: vs. Worthington Christian, at Liberty Union
The Kline sisters Bella and Sophia have led Berne Union to a 6-0 start to the season. The Rockets have won 26-straight regular season games against area competition and don’t seem to be slowing down. The Kline’s set the tone while senior guard Emily Blevins has added terrific contribution this season. The home win over Worthington Christian was as good as any area win for a non-Newark team this season.

5. Worthington Christian (5-1)
Best wins: at Marion Harding, at Olentangy Liberty, vs. Teays Valley
Worthington Christian is led by the top scorer in the area in senior Kat Weakley. Jason Dawson’s squad has a litany of weapons, as Weakley, junior Blessing King, sophomore Megan Weakley and sophomore Megan Mayotte form one of the best starting lineups in the area. The Warriors dropped a road game at Berne Union in close fashion but have followed that up with three-straight wins over Division I OCC competition. 

6. Watkins Memorial (5-0)
Best wins: at Columbus Academy, at Licking Valley
Andrew Bobalik is out to a great 5-0 start in his first season at Watkins Memorial’s head coach. The Warriors have steam rolled through LCL competition and have a very balanced lineup with five different players averaging between 8.6 and 10.2 points per game. Watkins will get its first real test on Friday when they take on Granville.

7. Cardington (4-0)
Best wins: vs. Fredericktown
The Pirates have won 53-straight KMAC games dating back to the 2016-17 season. This year has been much of the same as Cardington has won three of four games by at least 20 points. Scoring has been balanced this season, as Cardington features four players averaging at least 9.3 points per game. 

8. Fisher Catholic (5-0)
Best wins: vs. Bishop Rosecrans, vs. Amanda-Clearcreek
Berne Union isn’t the only MSL-Cardinal team unbeaten thus far in the year. Fisher Catholic is off to a strong 5-0 start, winning every game by double digits. The Irish could realistically remain unbeaten until a matchup against Berne Union on Jan. 15 that was originally scheduled to happen tonight. 

9. Bloom-Carroll (3-2)
Best wins: vs. Liberty Union, vs. Amanda-Clearcreek
Their record may not look great but make no mistake, Bloom-Carroll is a strong team led by a special talent in freshman guard Emily Bratton. Bratton had a breakout showing in back to back games this month, leading the Bulldogs over Liberty Union on Dec. 4 and then putting together a great performance on the road at Circleville four days later. The Bulldogs were without Bratton in a tough loss to Teays Valley last Saturday, but with her on the floor, we think Bloom is a clear cut top team in the MSL-Buckeye.

10. Liberty Union (1-2)
Best wins: vs. Teays Valley
Liberty Union has had a tough schedule to start the season, taking on two ranked teams and falling by a combined 13 points in those games. The Lions are led by a pair of sophomores in Abbie Riddle and Caroline Berlekamp, who both offer intriguing size and scoring ability around the basket. A favorable stretch of the schedule could have the Lions in great position to knock off Bloom-Carroll in the rematch on Jan. 19.

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