Since Bill Spencer took over as coach in 2013-14, the Northland High School girls basketball team has earned a Division I district championship and made two appearances in the City League title game.

Since Bill Spencer took over as coach in 2013-14, the Northland High School girls basketball team has earned a Division I district championship and made two appearances in the City League title game.

The return of 5-foot-9 senior forward Taylor Pearson and several other key players has the Vikings planning for big things again this season.

Pearson, a first-team all-City-North Division and third-team all-district selection who averaged 13 points a year ago, has signed with Marshall University.

She was the Vikings' top player last season, when they lost to Pickerington Central 54-40 in a district final to finish 20-6 overall.

"I think we'll be competitive," said Spencer, who entered the season with 286 career victories. "With our lack of height we're going to have to be very good on the defensive end. We'll be playing a little bit of small ball. I need to see a little more, but with four starters back we're going to have good team chemistry."

Northland, which opened Nov. 26 by losing 60-42 to Gahanna in the Gary West Tipoff Classic at Reynoldsburg, begins City-North action Tuesday, Dec. 6, at East.

The Vikings tied Centennial for first at 13-1 each of the past two seasons, with the Stars competing in the City final in 2015 and Northland losing to Africentric in last year's City title game 60-46.

Whetstone (9-5), Linden-McKinley (8-6), Mifflin (7-7), Beechcroft (4-10), East (2-12) and International (0-14) rounded out the league standings.

The Vikings' other seniors are Jordan Bryson (5-7, guard/forward), Taneia Hardman (5-7, guard), Manoushea Jacques (5-10, forward/center) and Malia Williams (5-7, guard).

Juniors Jeana Weatherspoon (5-10, forward) and Charlea Henley (5-6, guard) and sophomore Alexandria Hamilton (5-7, guard) are returning starters along with Pearson. Hamilton and Weatherspoon were honorable mention all-league.

Sophomore guard Jaylen Muldrow is up from the junior varsity.

"We've either tied or won the City-North every year (since I've been the coach) and been to the district championship game in two of those three years," Spencer said. "Hopefully we can keep that string going."

Cougars girls team looking to rebound

Coming off a season in which it won 16 games and reached a Division II district semifinal, the Beechcroft girls basketball team fielded a more inexperienced lineup last winter and slipped to 5-16.

The Cougars are hoping to bounce back behind the return of several key players, including six seniors.

The top returnee is 5-5 senior guard Kandice Farley-Marbury, who averaged 18.1 points and made second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district a year ago.

"We're just trying to rebound from last season," fourth-year coach Mike Moncrief said. "We only lost one senior and had one other player not come back so we're returning almost everybody. I think they grew up a lot over the summer."

The other seniors are Logan DeJarnette (5-7, post player), Shayann Graham (5-8, post player), Kierra Houston (5-5, post player), Makyah Lee (5-5, guard) and Taneya Vance (5-5, guard).

The team's tallest players are sophomore post players Grace Gales and Mikayla Swann, who are 5-10 and 5-11, respectively.

Also looking to contribute are sophomores Liza Farley (5-2) and Aniah Brown (5-4).

The Cougars had one senior a year ago in Akaiah Brown. The other player not back is junior Mahogany Loveless, who is no longer enrolled in the district.

Beechcroft opened Nov. 29 against Marion-Franklin.

"The thing I really like is they realize the turmoil we had last year and they've set their sights on getting the program back to where it was," Moncrief said. "I never thought we'd be a 5-16 ball club, but we just had a lot of growing pains."

Nubians, Warriors expect strong seasons

Two qualifiers to last year's state girls basketball tournament, Africentric and Eastmoor Academy, are hoping to lead the way again in the City-South.

The Nubians won their eighth City championship last season and went on to earn their fifth state title when they beat Marion Pleasant 59-37 in the Division III final at Ohio State.

Coming off a 24-5 season, Africentric should be as deep as any team in central Ohio, if not the state.

The Nubians had five players commit to colleges in November. They also have one of the state's top sophomores in Jordan Horston, a 6-0 point guard who made the ThisWeek Super 12 last season and was first-team all-district.

Senior Kynnedy Azubike (5-10, guard) will play for Akron, senior De'jae Denham (5-11, guard) will compete for Ohio University, senior Leah Morrow (5-8, guard) will play for St. Francis, senior Amari Grace (5-10, forward) has committed to West Virginia State and senior Chyna Chambers (5-6, guard) will play for Rio Grande.

Horston (10.5 points per game) and Morrow (11.5 points) were first-team all-league a year ago along with 2016 graduate Zharia Lenoir, who was the leading scorer (12.5 points) and now is playing for Eastern Illinois.

Azubike (11 points) was second-team all-league and Chambers (8.0 points) and Denham (6.5 points) were honorable mention all-league.

Others looking to contribute are junior Iyana Hairston (5-10, forward) and freshmen Lexia Smith (5-8, guard) and Nyam Thornton (5-9, guard).

"We're trying to win another City title and go back-to-back state titles," 14th-year coach Will McKinney said. "This team is better than last year's. By the time we hit the playoffs we'll be battle-tested."

The Nubians went 12-0 to win the City-South ahead of Eastmoor (10-2), Briggs (6-6), Independence (6-6), Walnut Ridge (6-6), South (2-10) and Marion-Franklin (0-12).

Charity Martin Via, who is in her third season as Eastmoor's coach, will field a much younger team than a year ago, when the Warriors lost to Kettering Alter 60-34 in a Division II state semifinal.

Eastmoor returns two starters in 5-6 sophomore point guard Samaria Rodgers-Gossett, who averaged six points, four assists and four steals, and 5-9 sophomore forward Mchale Grant, who averaged eight points and seven rebounds.

Sophomore Teresa Craig, a 5-9 guard, was a key backup last season, and 6-0 sophomore post player Mallory Barnes is expected to take on a bigger role after contributing off the bench.

Junior Allayah Hughes, a 5-6 guard, is a transfer from Reynoldsburg who should be another key player.

Senior post player Aysia Ashley, a transfer from Centennial who has committed to play for Ohio Valley, could be out for the season's first half or longer.

Point guard Ciarra Gallagher is on the team as a freshman.

The Warriors, who lost college recruits Amani Burke (Ohio University) and Mahogany Merritt (Malone) to graduation after going 22-5 overall last season, open Friday, Dec. 2, at Gahanna. Burke was the district Player of the Year and first-team all-league, while 2016 graduate Jala Belcher and Merritt were second-team all-league and Grant and Rodgers-Gossett were honorable mention all-league.

"It should be an interesting year," Martin Via said. "I feel like our strength is our speed. We're young, which is a strength, but it's also a weakness."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek