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Notre Dame basketball gaining momentum

02/16/2017, 12:52am EST
By By STEVE JUNGA BLADE SPORTS WRITER

10th-ranked Eagles have ingredients for another strong tourney run


Notre Dame senior guard Bre Hampton-Bey leads the team in scoring at 13.6 points per game. THE BLADE/LORI KING

Between 2012 and 2015, Notre Dame basketball coach Travis Galloway guided his Eagles to four straight trips to the Division I state final four, including a 27-3 team that was edged 44-38 by West Chester Lakota West in the 2015 state championship game at Value City Arena in Columbus.

Those Eagles teams were Toledo’s first ever — girls or boys — to make more than two consecutive appearances at state.

So, it’s safe to say that Galloway (ninth season, 178-47 overall) knows what it takes to reach Columbus in March, and he sees the potential in his current squad to make it five trips in six seasons.

The 10th-ranked Eagles are 18-3 overall and a perfect 13-0 in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference entering today’s regular-season and conference finale at Clay, and they appear to have the ingredients necessary for another deep tournament run.

“We’re very excited about this team because of our depth, and our ability to play different styles,” Galloway said. “We can match up with bigs because we have some bigs, and we can play fast if we have to play fast.

“Our kids have really bought into the system of going with different lineups depending on who we’re playing and what style we want to dictate. We are excited about where the program is going into the tournament.”

First and foremost on the list of strengths, the 2016-17 Eagles are led by two senior guards who are four-year varsity starters that have already reached Columbus twice.

Shooting guard and University of Toledo signee Mariah Copeland has played all four years for Galloway, and point guard Bre Hampton-Bey made the Division II semifinals and finals in 2014 and 2015, respectively, at Rogers before transferring to Notre Dame last year.

“We just need to stay focused,” Copeland said of the upcoming tournament trail. “Everyone here has the same goal, not just me, and that is getting as far as possible. To do that that, we need to stay focused in practice, and on the game plan.

“I don’t think [the current sophomores] realized last year how big of a deal this was, and what was at stake. This year, we’re all on the same page, and want to go as far as we can.”

Added Hampton-Bey: “It’s a priority to me that we get to states with this team because I’ll be doing it with people that I truly care about and love. It would mean a lot to me. I think [focus] started about five or six games ago. That’s when we all decided that this is the time we start to prepare for the tournament run.

“We are definitely good enough to get back to Columbus. In game situations I feel we can always come out on top, no matter what. If we play the way that [2015] team did with the talent we have now, I think we’ll be unstoppable.”

Galloway’s group also has size, with 6-foot sophomore post Krisah Lewis complemented by 6-3 junior Ariel Cummings, who has played 10 games for the Eagles after sitting out the season’s first 11 games following her transfer from Ottawa Hills.

And, with contributions from sophomores Jala Johnson, Maelyn Kizer, Ashley Barron (5-11), and Kailah Johnson along with senior Erin Fankhauser, the Eagles also have depth with scoring ability inside and outside of the paint.

“What’s better about our team the second half of the season is our balance,” Galloway said. “We’re getting production inside with Lewis and Cummings, and we’re getting perimeter production with all of our guard play.

“Going into the tournament, we have to understand the value of possessions, and they are definitely heading in that direction.”

The stat sheet backs Galloway’s assertion of balance.

Hampton-Bey leads Notre Dame in scoring at 13.6 points per game, Copeland is at 11.0, Jala Johnson 8.1, Cummings 6.4, Lewis 6.0, and Kailah Johnson 5.1.

Cummings leads in rebounding at 4.9 per game followed by Hampton-Bey 4.8, Lewis 4.2, Jala Johnson 3.6, and Copeland 3.1.

Few teams in Ohio have rosters with such an array of talent and lineup flexibility, and the Eagles have used it to outscore their opponents by an average of 64.1 to 37.4 per game. Within conference play, ND is topping TRAC foes 68.8 to 31.2.

“Potentially, this is as good as any team we’ve had,” Galloway said.

Since the formation of the TRAC, Notre Dame has ruled the roost with a 79-4 conference record, and is 134-27 overall during that six-year span.

The Eagles have won six straight TRAC titles, including outright crowns in 2012, 2013, 2014, and this year. They shared the crown with Central Catholic in 2015 and 2016.

TRAC foe Whitmer ended Notre Dame’s string of final-four appearances by upsetting the Eagles 44-41 in last year’s D-I district final. Whitmer went on to beat Westlake 41-38 in the regional semifinals before falling 47-39 in the regional final to eventual state champion Wadsworth, which had lost in the four prior regional finals against Notre Dame.

Notre Dame’s three losses all came against top-notch competition on the road before the new year.

The Eagles lost to perennial Ohio power Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame (57-39) at West Chester Lakota West on Nov. 27, to Indiana’s top team, Fort Wayne Homestead (43-58) on Dec. 3 in Fort Wayne, and to Florida power Lake Highland Prep (50-39) on Dec. 28 in Orlando.

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter @JungaBlade.

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Notre Dame's Mariah Copeland shoots against Whitmer's Rhegyn Blood earlier this year. Copeland is committed to UT. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH


Notre Dame coach Travis Galloway says this squad ‘is as good as any team we’ve had.’ THE BLADE/LORI KING

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