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Posted On: 04/19/18 10:33 AM
A week ago, the OHSAA Board of Directors released Divisional Breakdowns for the 2018-19 season. Altogether, 31 teams shifted up or down a division for next season, with most of the realignment coming at the Division III and IV levels.
Regardless of division, the amount of movement in Northeast Ohio is noticeable, including two time defending State Champion St. Vincent-St. Mary jumping up to the top level of OHSAA play. Other trends include an increasingly weakened D-IV pool in Central Ohio and a pair of 2017-18 Southeast Ohio Division II contenders dropping one year too late.
After winning the last two Division II State Championships and falling one win short the year prior, the Irish are leveling up.
They’ll return four starters in Lunden McDay, Seth Wilson, Darius Cone, and Keyshawn Jones, along with super subs Chris Painter, Malaki Branham, Jalen Ross, and others. The Irish are still likely to compete with anyone for a Regional Final in Cleveland next season. Upon looking at it through a Division II lens, they’d likely had come into next year as the prohibitive favorites.
However, a 14-8 regular season record last year is worth examining. They’ve always been known as a D-II team that plays a “D-I schedule.” While regular season losses to Pickerington Central, Stow, Garfield Heights, St. Ignatius, St. Edward, Dayton Wayne, Cleveland Central Catholic, and Hoban were written off as primers for the playoffs last season, those are now the types of teams they’ll face in Regional action.
Is there a chance they’ll adjust and find a way to make States soon again? Certainly. They still enter next season in the top tier of NEO teams at the Division I level. However, the difference between favorite and top tier is a major one. But, head coach Dru Joyce is well equipped to endure the change with sophomore point guard Seth Wilson by his side, a promising young prospect who started in the backcourt of State Champion roster last season.
In other news, last year’s District Runner-Up Dayton Carroll has a massive adjustment ahead of them. They graduate Malone commit Eli Ramsey, a 6’3” combo guard who led Carroll in points and rebounds last season. Now, they’ll be competing in the Southwest with the likes of Moeller, Princeton, Springfield, and others. Ouch.
Rivals Cleveland Central Catholic and Benedictine have something to agree on. They both received good news after last week’s meeting in moving down from Division I.
Based on returning players, Benedictine especially should enter next season as State Championship hopefuls. Although they graduate Mario Caywood, Bryan Washington, and Jerwon Thomas, the Bengals replace size with speed. Their backcourt of Davin Zeigler, Jashun Cobb, Eric Buckner Jr., and wing Andy Barba, combine for one of the most talented starting fives in Division II next season.
The Division III Final Four this season was immensely talented. Competitive Balance has taken the air out of Division IV, as most of the talent in Ohio’s lowest division is now in rural Northwest Ohio.
However, many of the Division III newcomers are coming from Division II this season.
Warrensville Heights ended their season on a Revere buzzer beater in a Division II District Final. Furthermore, regardless of division, 2018-19 was always going to be Warrensville Heights’s year. Besides the athletic size of 6’5” forward Shawn Dunnings, their bringing everybody back. Expect a strong senior season from LM/D-II guard prospect Brandon Rush. If dynamic ball-handler Ramelle Arnold makes a leap from freshman to sophomore year, watch out.
Forecasting way too early, but we’d put Warrensville in a class with Lutheran East and Beachwood in terms of talent amongst NEO Division III teams.
Meanwhile, the move may have come a year late for Fairland and Meadowbrook.
As for Fairland specifically, they graduate their entire starting five, and this wasn’t a team that looked to their bench for much scoring.
Meadowbrook has a more realistic chance of rebounding at the Division III level after their State Final Four appearance. Unsigned senior Trey Singleton is off the books, he averaged 23.7 points and 4.8 rebounds. But, they return a lot of size and wisdom from their tournament experience.
Just a quick note on Fort Recovery, who could be frisky next season, to wrap this up. They join the majority of the Midwest Athletic Conference in Division IV, which makes the Northwest Ohio section of this division even tougher.
Senior-to-be Payton Jutte was second to Justin Ahrens as leading scorers in the conference last season. Jutte shot 39.1 percent from deep, and junior-to-be Grant Knapke wasn’t far behind him at 36.4 percent. With Knapke and Jutte spreading the floor, they’re a slasher away from being a tough matchup.