The Solon girls basketball team is dribbling forward with clean slate of starters this season.
Coming off a 26-3 Division I state runner-up campaign, including 14-0 mark in the Greater Cleveland Conference, the Lady Comets have several program players but 5-foot-10 sophomore Hailey Weaver and 5-foot-10 senior Sammi Rinicella possess the most meaningful varsity minutes from a year ago.
And although Weaver is already attracting attention from Division I colleges and Rinicella shoots with ice in her veins from downtown, the Solon girls are going to need contributions from their entire varsity rotation in order to chase their fourth straight GCC banner and eighth consecutive Division I district title under 10th-year head coach Trish Kruse.
Since taking the reins during the 2009-10 season, Kruse has had the luxury of four-year starters Jaime Gluesing, Kristen Confroy, Jordan Bekelja, Dee Bekelja, Alexis Stover and Valencia Myers.
This is first time in more than a decade that Solon has zero returning starters. In fact, Solon has had at least three returning starters in each of the past seven seasons.
But that didn’t stop the 2018-19 Lady Comets from remaining competitive against some top talent in their season opener against Kettering Fairmont as part of the Ohio Girls Basketball Report third annual Journey to the Tourney on Nov. 24 at Lakota West High School, just north of Cincinnati.
The tournament attracted 32 teams, including all four state champions of Ohio high school girls basketball from last season, to compete in 19 games during the course of three days.
Although Solon had a balanced offense with four players scoring in double figures, Kettering Fairmont 6-foot-2 senior Madeline Westbeld was too much to handle in the Lady Firebirds’ 70-58 victory. Westbeld scored 34 points on 15-of-17 shooting from the field, including four-of-five from downtown, and had 10 rebounds, three blocks and four steals.
The Lady Firebirds got out to a 26-17 lead in the first quarter, but Solon battled back and took a 39-38 upper hand at intermission. Fairmont went on to take a 54-47 lead in the third quarter and closed it out down the stretch.
Weaver led the Lady Comets with 17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block. Also in double figures, Solon 5-foot-6 senior Riyah Ali scored 13 points, Rinicella dropped a dozen on four-of-five shooting from downtown, and 5-foot-7 senior Kailyn McQueen scored 11 points on four-of-seven shooting from the field.
While those four Lady Comets combined for 53 points against Fairmont, they averaged a combined nine points a game off the bench last season. Only Weaver, 16 minutes, and Rinicella, 13 minutes, return with experience from Solon’s state championship game.
Overall, Solon shot 40.4 percent from the field against Fairmont with more than half of its shots coming from beyond the arc. The Lady Comets did finish 10-of-11 from the charity stripe, but they coughed up 21 turnovers and were minus-five in the rebounding department.
Returning to Northeast Ohio, Solon went on to defeat GCC foes Shaker Heights, 91-24, in a home opener on Nov. 24, and then Strongsville, 75-51, in a road battle on Monday night.
In the home opener, the Lady Comets owned a 59-12 lead at intermission and then shut out the Lady Red Raiders, 20-0, in the third quarter, before taking their foot off the gas.
Weaver again led the scoring column with 21 points, to go with her three rebounds and two assists, while 5-foot-6 senior Minah Ali scored 20 points with three rebounds, Riyah Ali scored 15 points, Rinicella dropped a baker’s dozen with three treys and a pair of assists, and McQueen scored nine points with two boards and an assist.
Another good performance from the free-throw line, the Lady Comets knocked down 12 of 14 freebies.
Also stuffing the stat book, 5-foot-11 junior Maria Leskovec scored four points with two assists, 5-foot-10 sophomore Micaha Marbury scored four points with two assists and 5-foot-6 junior Nadia Gibson scored two points with a rebound.
In the 75-51 triumph against Strongsville on Monday night, Solon owned a 38-29 lead at intermission before putting together another big third quarter. Out of the break, the Lady Comets outscored Strongsville, 25-11, to take a 23-point lead heading down the stretch.
Riyah Ali joined the 20-point club with a team-high 21 points, including four treys, to go along with her three steals, while Rinicella dropped 19 points with five 3-pointers, two rebounds and an assist.
Meanwhile, Weaver finished with nine points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal; Leskovec scored nine points with a 3-pointer; Gibson scored six points with two rebounds, an assist and a steal; and McQueen scored six points with two rebounds and a steal.
Through three games, the Lady Comets are averaging nine triples.
Solon was scheduled to resume GCC play on the road against Brunswick on Wednesday night, before returning home to take on league foe Elyria at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.