Dan Weber Just Sayin’: Only now, we’re Just Askin’ about upcoming sports calendar, even the Olympics

Questions, we’ve got questions, lots and lots of questions with the entire Northern Kentucky sporting calendar ahead of us for the next few months.

Instead of Just Sayin’ right now as we get into July, we’re Just Askin’.

Here goes:

Mariah Denigan (Photo provided)

• Will Northern Kentucky Swim League alum Mariah Denigan, from Florence Aquatics Center and Walton by way of Indiana University and the Barren Academy of Virtual Expanded Learning (BAVEL) become only the second U.S. Olympian to medal in the 10,000-meter open swim when she hits the water in the recently — and hopefully — cleaned-up Seine Aug. 8 at the Paris Olympics? Might be a good idea to mark that date down. We don’t get many Olympians here. The 21-year-old IU junior is an All-American swimmer for the Hoosiers as she heads to Paris. Before arriving at IU, Mariah set Kentucky state swim records in nine events.
• With high school football kicking off with the first two games for teams in August now, we’re wondering if Northern Kentucky can get its state championship mojo back after getting shut out last season?

• Will this be the year Highlands, with its 23 state football titles, second-most of all-time to Trinity’s 28, gets back under Bob Sphire, who has certainly made progress with the Bluebirds in Class 5A?

• Or will Randy Borchers’ Cooper use last year’s run to the 5A championship game the springboard to taking that next big step for the Jaguars?

• And if football is a quarterbacks’ game, will the return of multi-year veteran starters like Cooper junior Cam O’Hara and Beechwood senior Clay Hayden be the difference?

• Or will newcomers under/behind center get Covington Catholic (like maybe the athletic junior safety/basketball guard Cash Harney moving in for the graduated Evan Pitzer) and Highlands, where sophomore Rio Litmer would be in line next after sharing the spot with the graduated Brody Benke, have the championship answer?

• But after watching a strong, solid, supremely fundamentally sound Boyle County team chew up CovCath, 41-0, in the 4A championship game for the Colonels’ lone loss, can anyone catch up with the no-nonsense Danville program that looks like it could win in any class? Reminded us of the way the Concord (Calif.) De LaSalle team that rattled off 12 unbeaten seasons with 151 straight wins from 1992-2004, as crazy as that might sound. Boyle really does things right.

• Is there a longshot we don’t know about right now? And will the older river city urban districts – Dayton, Bellevue, Ludlow, Holmes or Newport – figure out a way to get back in the game? Will Newport’s brand-new stadium make a difference for the Wildcats?

• Of the five new football coaches in Northern Kentucky, which one has the best shot at getting it going right away?

• With the two top football prospects from Northern Kentucky who signed with UK – incoming freshmen Aba Selm, a 6-4, 285-pound offensive lineman from Simon Kenton, and 6-3, 235-pound Willie Rodriguez, a tight end from CovCath – will this be the year locals return to SEC action at Kroger Field? Selm is listed as wearing No. 53 on the 99-man UK team roster. Rodriguez, listed individually on the UK football website, isn’t among the 18 freshmen or five tight ends listed on the not-yet-updated full team roster with an assigned number.

• So how big a deal is college football at the big-time level? How about trying to guess how many folks are on the UK football staff for a program that – at best – is not quite in the top tier nationally or in the SEC? If you guessed 49 – from coaches to grad assistants, directors of performance, general manager, video analysts, creative directors, dieticians, strength and conditioning directors, recruiting coordinators, grad assistants, quality control directors, athletic trainers, you would be correct. That’s about one staffer for every two players.
• And now that we’re three years removed from the damage that COVID did to schools and sports, is there any chance we’ll see the return of marching bands or cheerleaders at road games or game programs or roster/lineups – all to some extent, casualties of the response to the pandemic.
• As for basketball, how big can Newport junior combo guard Taylen Kinney get in the national recruiting game after the summer of international competition he’s experiencing? Can he become the biggest recruit ever from Northern Kentucky, approaching the likes of Covington Grant’s Tom Thacker, who is the lone player with an NCAA, NBA and ABA basketball title to his credit or former Newport Catholic player Dave Cowens, an NBA MVP and one of the league’s 50 Greatest All-Time Players?

Jeff Hans (Photo provided)

• How impressive was the CovCath hire to replace retiring two-time state-championship-winning Scott Ruthsatz with alum Jake Thelen, hiring him away from a big-time college program like Cincinnati, now in the Big 12, where most assistants are making easily well into the six figures?

• Is this the year that Newport – with a new transfer giving the Wildcats three front-line 6-foot-8 players — unheard of not just in Northern Kentucky but in the entire state – gets to winning downstate?

• Or with the talent Cooper has coming back, does Newport make it downstate?

• As for our colleges here, how long will it take first-year coach Jeff Hans to get the NKU women’s basketball program challenging in Division I in the Horizon League the way he did at Thomas More in winning both NCAA Div. III and NAIA national championships as the all-time winningest NCAA women’s coach in Div. II a year ago?

• Back in Crestview Hills, where the Saints are in their second season in the NCAA’s Div. II, can new guy Brian Neal keep it going for the women the way the way Hans had it?

Shayla Myles-Aaron (Photo provided)

• Across the board starting with football, how far away is TMU from being competitive at the top in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference?

• One new sport we’re interested in seeing is that of Stunt (competitive cheer) that will get its start at NKU this year. How exactly does that work? New coach Shayla Myles-Aaron certainly has the experience to get the program off to a strong start
• With four starters back—including grad student Trey Robinson and an incoming 6-11, 240-pound freshman from Lithuania by way of IMG Academy, Paulius Rapolis – is this a year Darrin Horn’s guys can dominate in the Horizon even after all-time leading scorer Marques Warrick’s grad transfer to Missouri?

• And if they do, will the big increase in season ticket costs for the best Truist Arena courtside seats be a factor for the base group of fans that have stayed with the Norse over the years through thick and thin?

Those are our questions for now. The good news about sports is that you’ll get all the answers. But only after they play the games or finish the competition.

Contact Dan Weber at dweber3440@aol.com. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @dweber3440.

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