By CRAIG GIFFORD

BERLIN — Area girls basketball fans will be treated to some of the best girls basketball action from around the state over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

Thirty-three of Ohio’s top girls teams will compete in 20 games in the first-ever Classic in the Country to be held at Hiland’s Perry Reese Jr. Community Center today, Sunday and Monday.

Action kicks off this morning and Monday at 10 a.m., while Sunday’s first game is scheduled for noon. Games are scheduled an hour and 45 minutes apart, with the latest game beginning at 8:30 p.m. tonight and Monday and 8:45 p.m. Sunday.

Three of the four defending state champions — Dayton Chaminade-Julienne (Div. I), Regina (Div. III) and Marion Local (Div. IV) — will be on hand. The field of teams will also include perennial state powers div. I’s Cincinnati Lakota West, Youngstown Boardman and Cincinnati Winton Woods, Div. II’s Parma Heights Holy Name and Div. III’s Youngstown Ursuline.

Of course, both Holmes county teams will be in action, with host Hiland playing twice, against Marion Local tonight and Div. II Copley on Monday, both games beginning at 8:30 p.m. West Holmes will face Div. I’s Dayton Dunbar Sunday at 5:15 p.m.

Although this is the first year of the Classic, a similar showcase event had been held in Pickerington over the last several years. Hiland girls basketball coach Dave Schlabach said the school and community are both excited about hosting the event this year.

“Everything is going as well or better than anticipated,” Schlabach said. “We have over 100 volunteers helping out and we have great sponsorship from area businesses. We’re really going to make this a premier event in the state of Ohio.”

Both West Holmes and Hiland were a part of the Pickerington Shootout the last several years and both coaches said the Classic will be no different in terms of providing a midseason challenge to their squads.

“There are a lot of similarities in terms of why we wanted to be a part of it,” Schlabach said. “We have great matchups, it’s a tournament-type atmosphere.

“Both games will present a tremendous challenge, which is exactly what we need at this point in the season to find out what we’re made of. Both teams will have more talent than we have.”

Here is a breakdown of what area fans can expect from the two local schools this weekend.

Hiland vs. Marion Local
8:30 tonight

When the Hawks (9-0) take on the Flyers (9-1) it will be a rematch of the 2000 state championship game the Hawks won.

It could also be a preview of this year’s state title game with the way the two teams have gone through the first half of the regular season.

Hiland has dominated teams from this area, but tonight’s game will give Schlabach and his Hawks more of an idea how far they are along compared to the top teams in Div. IV.

“It will let us know where we’re at and what are some of the things we need to get better at,” Schlabach said.

“We’ll see if the kids are ready to step up to the challenge.

“It’s going to be a tournament-style atmosphere, which is something we need because hopefully we’ll get ourselves back into a similar situation by getting deep into the postseason.”

Marion Local, which is 88-42 under sixth-year coach Treva Fortkamp, lost three of its five starters from last year’s state title squad to graduation.

Still, the Flyers have plenty of weapons left as their 9-1 record through Wednesday would attest.

Leading the way for Marion Local is sophomore point guard Maria Moeller, who is the 47th-ranked high school player in the nation by All-Star Girls Report.

Along with Moeller, the Flyers will attack on the outside with sophomore Hollie Fortkamp, senior Bridget Schmackers and junior Kelsey Schaefer. Senior Erin Brand and sophomore Jenna Barhost give the Flyers a strong post presence.

Hiland vs. Copley
Monday, 8:30 p.m.

Hiland’s other opponent this weekend is Div. II Copley, which was 9-2 as of Wednesday.

Schlabach said playing a strong opponent a couple divisions higher than his Hawks is something Hiland can benefit from.

“Copley has some of the best individual talent we’ll see the entire year,” Schlabach said. “They have a lot of size and athleticism.”

One of Schlabach’s biggest concerns is 5-foot-10 wing Melanie Small, ranked 99th in the nation and committed to play at Michigan State next year.

“Melanie Small creates some tremendous matchup problems for us,” Schlabach said. “She has the quickness of a perimeter player but the size of a post player. We’ll probably have to stick some of our taller kids on her.

“One of the nice things it will do is make us come up with matchups to help keep us in the game.”

In all, Copley has four starters back from a team that was 22-3 a year ago and is now ranked No. 11 in the Cleveland area by The Plain Dealer.

Much like Hiland, Copley coach Steve Coon said his squad is looking forward to being tested with the post-season little over a month away.

“We expect it will be a hostile environment for our players and an extremely hard-played, competitive game,” Coon said in a press release.

West Holmes vs. Dunbar
Sunday, 5:15 p.m.

The Div. II Knights will have a stern test in perennial Div. I powerhouse Dunbar on Sunday night.

West Holmes will have its hands full guarding talented Wolverine players like 5-foot-3 point guard Rhian Davis, a senior ranked 70th in the country, sophomore wing Britney Hodges, 68th-ranked player and senior post Danielle Lattimore.

“Rhian Davis is a top-of-the-line point guard, an excellent ball handler and passer,” said West Holmes coach Matt Voll. “Danielle Lattimore is another good player. She’s great on the boards and is their emotional leader. They also have a bunch of good role players.”

“That’s a great ball club in Dunbar. They are very, very quick. They’re probably the quickest basketball team we’ll see all year. They’re very unselfish, well coached and well schooled.”

Although Dunbar is deep on talent and is annually at least a district qualifier, Voll said he and his squad are looking forward to the Classic.

“We’re looking forward to a great event with a lot of good teams,” Voll said. “It will be a great opportunity for our kids. The atmosphere is going to be a showcase atmosphere. We’re going to be playing a good team on a neutral court. It’ll be a top-shelf event.