One of the more competitive high school basketball events over the holidays involving City League programs the last two seasons has included the Brookhaven and Independence girls teams at the Gahanna Cage Classic.

One of the more competitive high school basketball events over the holidays involving City League programs the last two seasons has included the Brookhaven and Independence girls teams at the Gahanna Cage Classic.

Brookhaven beat the host Lions 40-25 to win the championship two years ago and lost to Gahanna 74-66 in the final a season ago.

The event this season features the same four teams as last year and will be held Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, Bexley and Brookhaven play at 6 p.m. in the opening game and Gahanna meets Independence at 7:30 p.m.

The consolation is 6 p.m. Tuesday. The championship is 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and is the ThisWeekNews.com Hoop it Up game of the week.

"All of the teams lost a lot of players," Bearcats coach Reggie Lee said. "It'll be interesting to see who comes out the best. That's been a pretty good tournament over the years."

In opening-round games last year, Brookhaven beat Bexley 74-55 and Gahanna downed Independence 75-47.

Several of the top players from that event -- including Gahanna's Amber Stokes, Bexley's Monica Gustin and Brookhaven's Da'Keisha Mann and Monay Cherry, who each made the all-tournament team -- have graduated.

Bexley returns a Division I recruit in Stetson-signee Ashley Dennis at point guard. Dennis had 27 points as Bexley lost to Newark Catholic 63-58 in overtime Dec. 16 to slip to 1-4. Bexley's only win before playing Lakewood last Saturday came over Columbus Academy 59-40 on Dec. 6.

Rick Ferkel has taken over the program after Wade Brockwell left to coach at Pickerington Central. Other key players for Bexley include junior post player Rebecca Carroll, junior guard Lily Watson and junior point guard Danielle Van Bibber.

"I know (Dennis) from when she was a freshman," Lee said. "I coached her in a camp for rising freshman. I'm not surprised by anything she's doing."

If Brookhaven gets by Bexley again, it likely will face Gahanna in the final. Gahanna was 5-1 before playing Pickerington North last Tuesday. Junior post player Haley Schmitt was the tournament MVP last year after scoring 17 points in both games. Other key players for the Lions include guards Tiyona Marshall and Jendy Weppler.

Like the Bearcats, Gahanna's forte thus far has been defense -- it didn't give up more than 46 points in any of its first six games.

Independence slipped to 2-4 with a 73-68 loss last Friday to Briggs. Jodeci White, who is the only other returning player to make the Cage Classic all-tournament team last year, had 27 points. Junior Stephanie Jones, a 5-11 post player, also is a key returnee.

"I don't know a whole lot about Bexley, but they have a new coach and when you get a new coach, it's tough to adapt to the change sometimes," Lee said. "We're going to have to play fundamentally sound. We're not really worrying a whole lot about (who we're playing). If we play fundamentals, we'll be OK."

•SOUTH BOYS NOTES -- The defending City League-South Division champion Eastmoor boys basketball team improved to 2-0 with a 70-61 win last Friday over Marion-Franklin, one of the teams expected to be among its toughest league competition.

Walnut Ridge and West, which have new coaches, are others trying to move into the upper echelon of the league.

The Scots split their first four games overall including their first two in the City-South under new coach Jason Bates and the Cowboys won three of their first four including their first two in the league under Jeremy McDaniel.

Walnut Ridge features a third-year starter in 5-foot-10 junior guard Jeremy Qualls as well as 6-4 sophomore Austin Traylor. Both scored 13 points last Friday in a 58-34 win over South.

Other key players for the Scots include sophomore Jed Reid (6-4), seniors Denzel Sims (5-9) and Alvin Busbee (6-2) and junior Julius Hurst (6-4). Reid is a transfer from Harvest Prep.

Walnut Ridge lost to Marion-Franklin 89-85 on Dec. 16 in the opening day of league play and faced Upper Marlboro (Md.) Largo last Monday at the Ironton Classic.

"We want to try and get out and attack," said Bates, who is the brother of Africentric coach Michael Bates. "We want to try and apply pressure defense to make people work. We really like to have pressure.

"They haven't really experienced things like the (Ironton Classic). We're trying to go around the state in these big-time atmospheres."

West opened league play with wins over South (64-63 on Dec. 16) and Africentric (50-43 last Friday) after winning just three games all of last year. The Cowboys' next City-South game is Jan. 6 at Eastmoor.

Seniors Matt Smith, Antwion McDaniel, Derek Sizemore and Dustin Thomas and junior Dominique Wade are starters and seniors Charlton Henderson and Ryan Berry are key reserves for West.

Last Friday, Sizemore -- who is the team's tallest player at 6-2 -- had 12 points and Thomas led with 13.

"We're excited and the kids are excited," McDaniel said. "The kids are buying into the program. We feel like the South Division is wide open. We're playing a style of ball that fits our kids. Most City teams are fast-paced, so we're trying to spread the ball around and have some patience. In (our first two wins) we played simple, hard-nosed, fundamental basketball."