Classic in the Country turns 10 this weekend

20-game annual event tips off Saturday morning at Perry Reese Jr. Community Center

By KEVIN LYNCH Staff Writer Published:

This coming weekend, Berlin will be abuzz with some of the best high school girls basketball the state of Ohio has to offer as The Amish Pie Company Classic in the Country Challenge Powered by Under Armour returns to the Perry Reese Jr. Community Center at Hiland High School for the 10th annual event.

The Classic in the Country has become so big it has picked up a national sponsor (Under Arnour) to go along with the local companies that have provided support for this basketball showcase over the years.

The event features 20 basketball games in three days, showcasing not only the best players in Ohio, but this year a team from Colorado and others from Tennessee and Maryland have joined the lineup. The games begin Saturday at 10 a.m. and run through Monday evening. Action tips off with local powerhouse and No. 6-ranked Orrville taking on D-IV top-10 team Reedsville Eastern.

West Holmes, the top-ranked team in Div. II, will take on D-III's second-ranked Columbus Africentric Saturday afternoon at 1:30. The Knights will also take on No. 7 North Canton Hoover Monday evening in the 19th game.

Host Hiland plays a team from Damascus, Md., on Saturday night and finishes off the weekend Monday night against Uniontown Lake.

This year's event features three of the reigning four state champions, D-I two-time champion Twinsburg, D-II four-time champ Hathaway Brown and D-III Africentric. Hiland (D-IV) and West Holmes (D-II) played in last year's state championship games.

Many of the 27 in-state teams are ranked in the Top 10 of the first Associated Press girls state basketball poll released last week: Twinsburg (No. 1) Kettering Fairmont (2), Reynoldsburg (4) and Hoover (7) are in Div. I. Cincinnati Princeton is ranked just out of the top 10 (No. 12) .

The top five teams in D-II are all scheduled to play including West Holmes (No. 1), Clyde (2), Hathaway Brown (3), Toledo Rogers (4) and Bellbrook (5).

Orrville and Africentric are top 10 teams from D-III, with Proctorsville Fairland just out of the top 10 at No. 11. Reedsville Eastern (No. 10) and Hiland (No. 4) are the teams from D-IV that are in the top 10.

So, not only are there several great teams on the schedule, there are also many of the top-rated high school players in the country, according to Dan Olson's Collegiate Girls Basketball Report (CGBR). The top-ranked junior point guard in the country, Princeton's Kelsey Mitchell, will be wowing the many college scouts who take in the event that is known not only for the quality of play, but for the exceptional hospitality that the Hiland community delivers.

Last year, 146 college coaches were at the Classic in the Country Challenge, bringing the total to more than 1,200 college coaches that have been to Berlin since the first Classic in the Country in 2004.

Another college scouting service, the Ohio Girls Basketball Report (OGBR) is produced by the event coordinator, Tom Jenkins.

Of the top 25 seniors rated by OGBR, 17 of them will be playing in this year's classic. And, of the top 25 juniors, 20 will be in Berlin. Four top sophomores and six freshmen will also be displaying their skills.

Three of the top 25 seniors all play on one team, Gahanna Lincoln, which features a lineup of players already committed to Div. I college scholarships. Many of these players are also nationally ranked in the CGBR as well.

The first game between the Red Riders and the Eastern Eagles features some of that nationally ranked talent. Orrville's Hannah Plybon is ranked No. 33 nationally by CGBR. She is the leading scorer in the area. She will need plenty of help from her mates as they take on John Burdette's Eagles, who have suffered only one loss so far this season. Burdette's daughter Jenna, a junior, is a nationally ranked point guard (No. 17) who has already accepted a scholarship to the University of Dayton. A pair of 6-foot junior post players, Katie Keller and Erin Swatzel give the Eagles size and scoring punch inside, while senior guards Tori Gobie and Savannah Howley provide pop from the perimeter. Eastern has been scoring in the 70s this season as the Eagles like to push the ball up and down the floor.

The Knights will have their hands full when they take on Africentric Saturday afternoon at 1:30. The Nubians are the defending D-III state champions and are led by University of Cincinnati-bound center Marley Hill, a nationally ranked post player. She is joined on the front line by another 6-3 post player, junior Alexa Hart. Africentric likes to run, taking advantage of its depth. Jenkins says the Nubians are one of the deepest teams in the state. They have been averaging close to 80 points per game, twice scoring over 100.

West Holmes is pretty deep itself. Junior Laina Snyder is another nationally ranked player who leads the Knights of coach Lisa Patterson. Joining Snyder are seniors Rachelle Morrison, Mallori Vess and Justice Wright, each of whom has taken turns providing big offensive games to help the Knights remain undefeated so far this season. Junior point guard Emily Molnar is another player who can take over a game. And Paiten Strother is a 3-point marksman who last year set the school record for triples in a season.

Hiland's Saturday foe, Damascus (Md.) was dealt a serious blow when the Hornets' leading scorer went down with a torn ACL recently. Damascus has plenty of other offensive weapons at its disposal, led by 6-4 junior post Kelly Prange. Becky Barret and Lauren Darby are a pair of 6-1 seniors that give Damascus quite a presence on the post.

This should be an interesting matchup, as Hiland coach Dave Schlabach says this is the smallest team he has ever had during his 22 years of coaching the Hawks. Jasmine Goings at 5-10 is the tallest Hiland player. Regina Hochstetler and Megan Beachy are the top two scoring threats for the Hawks, along with Goings.

Here are some other interesting facts about the Classic in the Country Challenge:

-- Tickets to Classic in the Country Challenge are available at Hiland High School. A three-day pass to the event is $25. A single-day admission is $10. Non-participating team rate is $75, for up to 12 players and three coaches.

-- Since the inception of The Classic in the Country, every Ms. Basketball for the state of Ohio has competed in Classic in the Country; 7 of the 9 in the year they were crowned Ms. Basketball. Mel Thomas (Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame); Maria Getty (Chaminade Julienne); Tyra Grant (Youngstown Ursuline); Jantel Lavendar (Cleveland Central Catholic); Amber Gray (Lakota West); Kendall Hackney (Mount Notre Dame) Natasha Howard (Toledo Waite); Ameryst Alston (Canton McKinley). Which of the many stars playing there this year will be Ohio's next Ms. Basketball?

-- Of the 36 state champions crowned since the first Classic in the Country, 27 of them have played at the Classic the year they won their championship.

For the 180 games played in Classic in the Country I-IX, the average point differential has been 11.4 points. For you basketball folks, that is .95 to 1.4 possession differential per quarter.

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