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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Girls Sweet 16 coming to NKU

Allen Ramsey Photo. Highlands point guard Haley Coffey (15) sets up the offense in the recent 9th Region semifinal game against Notre Dame at the Bank of Kentucky Center. The BOK will play host to the 2016 and 2017 Girls Sweet 16 State Basketball Tournaments.
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

It started with the 9th Region Tournament.

Then the Bank of Kentucky Center had huge success playing host to more high school basketball games this past season. A huge crowd attended the boys hoops doubleheader between Covington Catholic and Dixie Heights then Newport Central Catholic and Covington Holmes this past February.

On Tuesday, the Board of Control announced the arena on the Northern Kentucky University campus will play host to the Girls Sweet 16 State Basketball Tournament in 2016 and 2017. It has been held at Western Kentucky University’s E.A. Diddle Arena the previous 14 years. That means the 9th Region winners will not have to travel far those years or make hotel accommodations.

“I think NKU has really done a great job with the new arena,” said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. “It’s going to be able to showcase NKU. I love Western. I have ties to Western. But I think every once in a while, it’s nice for a change. NKU has great facilities that will tailor great to the girls state tournament.”

The Bank of Kentucky Center opened in 2008 and seats 9,400. It is slightly bigger than Diddle Arena, which seats 7,326 and opened in 1963.

Richey is the state’s all-time career points leader with 4,948. The former 1996 Gatorade Player of the Year led Highlands to three straight region titles between 1994 and 1996 including a runner-up finish in 1994 as a sophomore.

Highlands played at Diddle Arena her sophomore and senior years and at the Civic Center in Frankfort her junior year. The Ladybirds last won the region title in 2001.

The tournament has never been played in Louisville. It was held at the University of Kentucky’s Alumni Gym between 1927 and 1932. The tournament has also been played at Eastern Kentucky University’s McBrayer Arena in the past.

Richey and Newport Central Catholic Head Coach George Stoll agreed things are tough in Kentucky for state championship sites because there is not a centralized location where tournaments can be held unlike other states. Columbus plays host to many Ohio High School Athletic Association state championships.

“Louisville could be decent. But to play in the KFC Yum (where the Louisville Cardinals men’s basketball team plays) is a huge arena. NKU and Western are perfect-sized arenas for the girls state tournament,” Richey said. “We don’t want to play in a large arena where it’s empty. We had some nice-sized crowds at the regionals at NKU. The KHSAA can only do so much. I appreciate the Board of Control giving the opportunity to go someplace else besides Western.”

Richey said the local fans need to come out to support the tournament for it to come back to Northern Kentucky. A concern for the tournament coming to NKU is the travel distance for fans in the eastern, western and even southern parts of the state. It is about five hours and 30 minutes from Northern Kentucky to Paducah.

“People from Cincinnati may be more interested in coming,” Stoll said. “Since it’s something new around here, I think people will want to see it. There are a lot of people around here who do care about girls high school basketball.”

NewCath enters next season as defending region champs. The Thoroughbreds won the region titles in 2003, 2005 and 2011 in addition to last year before losing in the first rounds of the tournament. They ventured to Diddle Arena every time for the state tournament.

In other news, the KHSAA extended the state softball tournament at Owensboro’s Fisher Park through 2018 and gave the state football championships to Western Kentucky for another four years, also to 2018. The state football championships have been in Bowling Green since 2009.

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