To compensate for a lack of change at the top of the boys basketball landscape as the 2012-2013 season begins, the girls basketball world might pick up the slack.
The national powerhouse that was St. Mary’s — three consecutive state championships and all sorts of national rankings and accolades — might have concluded its run. The Knights lost nearly every cornerstone player to graduation the past two years, then coach Curtis Ekmark left to coach an upstart club program through Nike. His daughter, Courtney, a Connecticut-commit, isn’t playing with the Knights this season.
Pile it all together, and there’s suddenly a wide open view of Division I. With or without St. Mary’s, most of the other elite teams from the East Valley figure to be in the championship mix again: Dobson, Highland, Hamilton, Mesquite and Desert Vista, to name a few.
There are several others, and it’s allowed the rest of the basketball world a ray of optimism after many felt their teams were simply playing for second place the past three years.
Speaking of juggernauts, Seton Catholic again is poised to make a state title run in Division II despite a wave of inexperience coming into Karen Self’s program. Getting past defending-champion Saguaro, however, will be tough. A feel-good story last year en route to its first state championship, most of the Sabercats’ lineup is back, but there’s no surprises here anymore even if Saguaro lost a couple games in Highland’s Thanksgiving tournament against Div. I competition. Gilbert Christian has serious title aspirations in Div. III.
The landscape appears to be changing again, and in less than three months we’ll know for sure how much.
Division I Rankings
1. Desert Vista
7. Mountain Pointe
9. Mountain View
Division II Rankings
2. Bradshaw Mountain
3. Marcos de Niza
4. Mountain View (Marana)
5. Seton Catholic
7. Williams Field
9. Pusch Ridge Christian
Teams to Watch
Desert Vista: Six months ago the Thunder made a mid-season coaching change, and Jontar Coleman took over at a good time. The Thunder have a pair of Division I-caliber players in guard Emily Wolph (Santa Clara) and junior center Kristine Anigwe. Sabrina Haines’ transfer from Mountain View only makes them tougher.
Dobson: Perennial contenders lost four-year standout Katherine Hamilton (Univ. of San Diego), but nine letterwinners return led by Tori Lloyd (NAU committ), Miyah Leith and Dyesha Staley. Deep and with more size than recent Mustangs team, Dobson can go 9-through-11 most games.
Hamilton: Three starters return from last year’s semifinals squad, and Jeff Kain’s teams are athletic and will use pressure defense. Ashlee Moore, Shelby Hartman and second-year starting PG Peyton Whitmore (sophomore) are a pretty good core.
Highland: Yes, Highland lost the vast majority of kids from last year’s, but the new crop has size and some shooting accumen. And since when has a lack of experience prevented Highland from ever being a playoff contender?
Mesquite: Candice Gonzales’ team is on the rise after nearly knocking off Highland to begin last year’s state tournament. The return of playmakers Cecily Wilson and Alliyah Bryant heads up a group looking to take the next step.
Seton Catholic: A patchwork group still made the Div. II semifinals last year, and while a lot of experience was lost from this perennial power program, Julia Barcello and Heather Heild are pretty good players. Youth will be served here, but Seton is like Highland: contenders no matter what.
Valley Christian: Stung by a Div. III quarterfinal loss to Gilbert Christian last year, three starters return led by Ashley Koch and Mara Kemmer. A couple promising freshman enter the mix as well for Scott Timmer’s team.
Williams Field: Defense and shooting will tell the tale here and the Black Hawks try to return to their successul ways in the late 2000s. Andrew Carter’s team is slowly working its way back and the roster has plenty of talented juniors.
Others to watch: Basha, Higley, Mountain View, Red Mountain
Players to watch
Sophia Anaya, Marcos de Niza, Sr., G: She’ll not only fill up the basket and the boxscore with her all-around abilities, but the Padres’ underrated point guard is poised to lead the Padres to new places now that Marcos is in Div. II.
Julia Barcello, Seton Catholic, Sr., F: Part of a solid group of Sentinels with size, Barcello is the most skilled and will be leaned heavily, especially early on as a young group learns the Varsity ropes; headed to Colgate on scholarship next fall.
Armani Hawkins, Mountain View, Sr., G: Headed to ASU next year, Hawkins’ length and shooting are top-notch, and she’ll lead a revamped Toros squad without much experience or size.
Tori Lloyd, Dobson, Sr., G: The athletic seniors guard surpassed 1,000 career points for her career and is headed to NAU but not before leading a solid Mustangs backcourt toward a championship.
Kaylah Lupoe, Mountain Pointe, Sr., F: Closing in on 1,000 career points, Lupoe will again be a big part of Mountain Pointe’s offense after a juniors season of 13 ppg, 8 rpg and 3.1 bpg; headed to Hampton University.
Sidney Martindale, Higley, Jr., F: A three-year player on varsity, the 5-foot-9 guard averaged 18 points, six rebounds, two assists and 5 five as a sophomore and is off to a similar start this season. She’s also a standout volleyball player and in track and field.
Ashlee Moore, Hamilton, Sr., F: A state champion in the high jump and long jump for track and field, this four-year starter is poised for a big season with her athleticism and leaping ability for what should be another solid squad.
Hayley Prior, Basha, Sr., F: Averaged 12 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and nearly three steals per game as a junior. If her shooting continues to improve, she’ll be one of the better forward in the East Valley in trying to lead Basha back to a state tournament berth.
Emily Wolph, Desert Vista, Sr., G: With quickness her biggest attribute, the senior guard could average 20 points per game this season as a continuation of her strong junior season as the loaded Thunder take aim at a title behind their leader.
Camille Zimmerman, Tempe Prep, Sr., F: The 6-foot forward is headed to Columbia University next fall, but not before she finished a prolific high school career by averaging a double-double inside for the Knights.
Others to Watch
Basha: Jacey Kitamura, Sr., G; Christine Orr, Jr., F; Chandler: Treanna Frazier, So., F; Alina Lopez, Sr., G; Dobson: Miyah Leith, Sr., G; Monay Mariscal, Jr., F; Sara Nichols, Jr., F; Dyesha Stahley, Sr., G; Desert Ridge: Rionne Arceneaux, Sr., F; Jasmine Meredith, Sr., F; Alyssa Villescas, Sr., G; Desert Vista: Kristine Anigwe, Jr., F; Sabrina Haines, Jr., F; Gilbert: Rachel Chapman, Jr., F; Lucy Guerrette, So., G; Jolene Main, Sr., F; Gilbert Christian: Cassidy Curtner, So., F; Meg vanRijn, Jr., F; Colleen Young, Sr., G; Hamilton: Makayla Filiere, So., F; Shelby Hartman, Sr., G; Payton Whitmore, So., G; Highland: Mary Eckenrode, Sr., G; Melinda Myers, Sr., F; Hadley Nielson, Jr., F; Kendall Perry, Jr., G; Higley: Nicole Flora, Sr., F; Ruth Hicks, Sr., F; Kelsi Winter, Sr., F; Marcos de Niza: Jorie Mayfield, Sr., F; Akayla Taylor, Sr., G; Angelicah Tso, Sr., F; Mesa: Carly Turnbull, So., G; Mesquite: Alliyah Bryant, Sr., G; Cecily Wilson, Sr., G; Alexis Springfield, So., F; Mountain Pointe: Maddy Sulka, Sr., G; Tilasha Okey, So., G; Mountain View: Shauna Bribiescas, Fr., F; Cherokee Davis, Sr., G; Tennille Haywood, Jr., G; Christine Miller, Sr., F; Perry: Rachel Amerine, Jr., G; Cassidy Brumby, Jr., G; Poston Butte: Aesia Cruz, Sr., G; Valeria Lopez, Sr., F; Gabriella Musselman, So., G; Queen Creek: Bailey Cornwell, Sr., G; Quiana Flowers, Jr., G; Red Mountain: Monika Kucerkova, Sr., F; Seneca Richards, So., G; Michaela Sabin, Jr., G; Gabrielle Wallace, Sr., F; Seton Catholic: Heather Heild, Sr., F; Liz Holter, Fr., G; Jennifer Wirth, Fr., G; Skyline: Miryah Hidalgo, Jr., G; Audrey Keams, Sr., G; Tempe Prep: Catherine Bryant, Jr., G; Marie Bryant, Sr., G; Valley Christian: Mara Kemmer, So., G; Ashley Koch, Jr., F; Williams Field: Arianna Barnes, Jr., G; Shantelle Crespin, Jr., F; A’Shari Pittman, Sr., F;
Dec. 19-21: Nike Tournament of Champions (at Arizona College Prep, Basha, Chandler, Hamilton and Perry high schools)
Dec. 26-30: Red Mountain Holiday Hoops Classic (at Red Mountain H.S.)
Dec. 26-28: Valley Christian tournament (at Valley Christian H.S.)
Jan. 20: MLK Basketball Classic (at Wells Fargo Arena)
Feb. 11-15: Sectional tournaments
Feb. 19: State tournaments begin
March 1: State championship games
• Parity?: With St. Mary’s appearing to be nowhere near the teams of the past three years, new (or similar) Division I contenders are now bound to swoop and make runs come state tournament time. Throughout girls basketball, last year’s senior class has left a huge gulf of talent needing to be filled, which could prove difficult. However, the incresed likelihood of parity allows schools to better compete against one another and for a championship (especially in Div. I). It mind wind up being a similar group of 3-5 teams who could realistically win the title, but it could also make for a most unpredictable season, one full of upsets on a given night.
• Alignment: The new two-year alignment block of divisions and sections has given optimism to several programs (especially Marcos de Niza in Div. II), but has also created quasi-”super sections,” namely Divsion I, Section 2 (Basha, Chandler, Corona del Sol, Desert Ridge, Desert Vista, Gilbert, Hamilton, Highland, Mesquite, Mountain Pointe, Perry, Red Mountain and Skyline). Whoever wins that section will have earned the banner. The same could be said of Div. II, Section 4, where the vast majority of non-Division I’s East Valley schools reside.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.