ESPN RISE takes a look at the teams to watch this month in this area:
Boys' Hockey -- St. Edward
In 1986, St. Edward boys' hockey coach Rob Whidden won a state championship as the goalie on a talented Eagles team. Twenty-two years later, Whidden hoisted the trophy as the head coach of his alma mater. Winning state titles is becoming a regular occurrence for the fourth-year head coach, and a foregone conclusion for the program, which won its 11th last winter. "We will be wearing that target, that big 11 on our backs," Whidden says. "It was the fifth state title since I have been associated with the program, but my first as head coach." St. Edward returns 17 seniors and junior forward Ross Kivett, who tallied 20 goals last year. "He's got it all: shoots well, skates well and has good vision," Whidden says. "We get everything out of him. I will jump the gun and say he is the best player in the state."Seniors T.J. Colvin and Michael Mackie-Kwist are also viable candidates to light the lamp. Defensively, the tandem of Brett Carter and goalie Michael Braun, both seniors, aim to keep the opposition at bay. Carter is a staunch defender but owns a lethal and accurate wrist shot, while Braun will attempt to replace all-star Robbi Ginsburg. The loss of nine seniors will open up holes on the offense and depth will be a concern for Whidden. But with the championship pedigree the team has formulated over the past two decades, the Eagles are aiming for their 12th title.
Girls' Basketball -- Hathaway Brown
In each of the last two seasons, Hathaway Brown has advanced to the Division II state title game. But both times the girls were sent home minus the trophy they pursued. The Blazers hope to throw the proverbial monkey off their back this winter behind the play of All-Ohio forward Mylan Woods and fellow junior Alexis Dobbs. The duo combined for 25 points in a state title loss to Alter last year. With the key components returning for both teams, a possible rematch could be in the cards.
Boys' Basketball -- Warren Harding
After winning 23 games last year, Warren Harding's magical season came to a halt with an overtime loss to St. Edward in the playoffs. The Raiders return focused on a return trip to the postseason and a run at the state title. Leading the way for Harding will be a pair of ESPN RISE All-Area picks in seniors Sheldon Brogdon and Desmar Jackson. The backcourt duo is one of the best in the state and has the versatility to to grind things out in the halfcourt set or play at a breakneck pace.
Girls' Swimming -- Strongsville
Strongsville returns a multitude of talented swimmers who have been successful at the state level. The team's veteran nucleus is ready to make a splash this year and zero in on a state title. Seniors Molly Buynak and Mackenzie Hoffman provide the Mustangs with experience and will mentor juniors Beth DeFauw, who finished seventh in the 200 free, Katie Kelly and Rachel Roman. The team will also hope to locate a replacement for graduated swimmer Rachel Rosenberg.
BREAK OUT TEAMS
BOYS' HOCKEY -- NORTH OLMSTED
The Eagles could make noise in the postseason with the return of senior Chad Murphy.
GIRLS' GYMNASTICS -- ROCKY RIVER
Coming up short in the state championship should reinvigorate the state runners-up.
BOYS' SWIMMING -- CANFIELD
Canfield returns the trio of senior Ryan King, junior Garrett Trebilcock and sophomore Gavin Trebilcock.
GIRLS' BOWLING -- STRUTHERS
The Wildcats return five state qualifiers, led by seniors Dani Dyce and Crystal Harvey.
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