It has never happened before — Mesa Red Mountain entering a season as the clear favorite to win the 5A Division I basketball crown.
That is the reality of the situation that faces the 2006-07 Mountain Lions.
Coach Martin Appel returns all his starters from last season.
Defending 5A-I champion Phoenix St. Mary’s lost two of the best players in school history (Dymond Simon and Nicole Neals) to graduation.
The Knights can contend with the experience left over from last year. So can a couple of other schools. But they don’t appear to add up to what Red Mountain has as the season tips off this week.
Red Mountain, led by fouryear starter Kayla Pedersen, hasn’t won a title in her tenure. She hopes to avoid the fate of Phoenix Mountain Pointe graduate Nicole Powell, one of the state’s best never to secure a team hoop title.
Red Mountain’s biggest obstacle is not letting expectations become too ingrained. A tough Christmas schedule, which includes games with St. Mary’s, Gilbert Highland and two national-caliber tournaments, should occupy its thoughts. Maintaining a competitive edge when region play starts in mid-January will be tougher since the caliber of the East Valley Region is lacking top to bottom.
In 5A-II, the East Valley’s best hope comes from Scottsdale Desert Mountain or Tempe Marcos de Niza.
Both teams return a decent amount of experience, but do they have enough to best the likes of Tucson Flowing Wells, Tolleson, Peoria Centennial or Peoria Sunrise Mountain?
In 4A, Glendale Cactus returns center Rebecca Tobin from last year’s 4A-I title team and should be hard to beat again.
Another defending champion, Phoenix Washington, is favored in 4A-II.
In 3A, Chandler Seton Catholic has some rebuilding to do and will be challenged by Coolidge in the South Region, while Chandler Valley Christian is again stacked with talent and will try to improve on last year’s run to the 2A semifinals.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kayla Pedersen: Beginning her fourth year on the Mountain Lions varsity, the Stanfordbound player averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds last year. They’ll never be better equipped to compete for the 5A-I title.
Aria Krumwiede: Slick ball-handling guard is in her third year of varsity play, and with some key players departing, will be expected to carry more of the scoring load for Chaparral.
Katrina Graham: Desert Mountain’s all-around whiz (15 points, seven rebounds, three assists) is back for one more go-round. Can she do a little more to overcome the loss of Christina Savilo (torn ACL last summer)?
Brooke Jackson: This is her third year as a starter for Mountain View. The 5-foot-10 guard averaged 25 points per game last season, setting four state records along the way.
Ashlee Brown: The senior averaged 23 points and 16 rebounds for Chandler. Can the Santa Barbara signee lead the Wolves to their first state title game in five years?
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH
Tiffany Casey, Casa Grande, 6-0, F, Sr.; Alexsandra Aranda, Casa Grande, 5-10, F, Sr.; Tess Ferguson, Casa Grande, 5-8, G, Jr.; Breanna Arbuckle, Chandler, 6-1, F, Jr.; Callina Hurley, Chandler, 5-7, G, Jr.; Samia Stokes, Corona del Sol, 6-2, F, Sr.; Ashley Espinoza, Corona del Sol, 5-3, G, Sr.; Katrina Graham, Desert Mtn., 5-10, F, Sr.; Jamie Johnson, Desert Mtn., Sr.; Stephanie Douthit, Desert Mtn., So.; Alexis Gannis, Desert Vista, 6-0, F, Jr.; Chandi Leith, Dobson, 5-7, G, Jr.; Donielle Cooper, Gilbert, 5-4, G, Sr.; Morgan Wohltman, Highland, 5-9, G, So.; Kelsey Hintz, Horizon, 5-11, F, Sr.; Chrissy Bertrand, Horizon, 5-10, F, Sr.; Bree Gholston, Marcos de Niza, 5-10, F, Sr.; Ana Castillo, Marcos de Niza, 5-7, G, Sr.; Joy Burke, Marcos de Niza, 5-8, G, So.; Melissa Spaich, Mesquite, 6-3, F, Sr.; Stevie Kamp, Mtn. View, 5-10, F, Jr.; Bonnie Barbee, Red Mountain, 5-8, G, Sr.; Amanda Bartlett, Red Mountain, 5-7, G, Sr.; Davellyn Whyte, St. Mary’s 5-10, G, Sr.; Erinn Goodman, Skyline, 5-10, F, Sr.; Samantha Murphy, Xavier, 5-10, G, Sr.; Cassie Keating, Xavier, 6-0, F, Jr.; Jeanna Furst, Xavier, 6-2, F, So.
Lexi Moody, Arcadia, 5-8, Jr., F; Sara Pages, Cactus Shadows, 5-9, G, Sr.; Kelly Foley, Cactus Shadows, 5-11, F, Sr.; Alicia Eaton, Coronado, 5-8, F, Sr.; Tabitha Williams, Coronado, 5-10, F, Jr.; Kaylan Shank, Horizon Honors, 5-9, F, Sr.; Kaitlin Shank, Horizon Honors, 5-9, F, Sr.; Kayla Valisto, Maricopa, 5-9, F, Jr.; Brittnee Perez, McClintock, 5-5, G, Sr.; Amy Patton, McClintock, 5-11, G, So.; Stefanee Perez, McClintock, 5-5, G, So.; Michelle Berry, Pinnacle, 5-10, F, Sr.; Kristy Krause, Pinnacle, 5-7, G, Sr.; Monique Machiz, Pinnacle, 5-5, G, Jr.; Larissa Hedger, Queen Creek, 5-10, F, Sr.; Courtney Adolph, Queen Creek, 5-11, C, Sr.; Meagan Haugo, Saguaro, 6-0, F, Sr.; Rekia Richmond, Saguaro, G, 5-8, Sr.; Kelly Tweito, Saguaro, 6-0, F, Jr.; Pisila Tukia, Tempe, 6-0, C, Sr.; Sarah Lulling, Tempe Prep, 5-7, Sr., G; Stephanie Ekstrand, Valley Christian, 5-10, F, Sr.; Shamesha Smith, Valley Christian, 5-9, F, Sr.
Today through Nov. 25: Highland Thanksgiving Tournament offers a sprinkling of best in 5A-I, 5A-II and 4A-I in the 20-team field.
Nov. 28: Red Mountain and St. Mary’s meet in a rematch of the 5A-I title game on St. Mary’s home floor.
Nov. 30-Dec. 2: Phoenix Country Day School’s Desert Classic brings in some of the best small schools in the Valley.
Dec. 27-29: Valley Christian Invitational typically features several 2A teams with title aspirations.
Dec. 19-22: Nike Tournament of Champions returns to Chandler for a four-day run before Christmas with Red Mountain and Chandler the top two local draws.
Jan. 15: Two girls games are part of the five-game slate at ASU’s Wells Fargo Arena. 5A East Valley Region rivals Red Mountain and Mountain View hook up in one and Saguaro and Cactus lock up in the other.
Feb. 20-March 1: 5A-I and 5A-II state tournament field plays for all the marbles.
5A DIVISION I
PRESEASON TOP 5
1. Red Mountain: The Mountain Lions return all five starters and replace St. Mary’s as this year’s hunted squad after their runner-up finish to the Knights in 2006.
2. St. Mary’s: It’s the Knights’ turn to reload and build around a couple of good sophomores. They won’t just stand still and let Red Mountain waltz to the title.
3. Chandler: The Wolves breezed to the Fiesta Region title last season but were upset in the quarterfinals by Salpointe. The Wolves are talented enough to advance further this season.
4. Mountain View: The injury-riddled Toros incredibly reached the semifinals last year. Health and some reinforcements might make them better this year.
5. Mountain Ridge: The Mountain Lions are led by USC signee Kari LaPlante and might have the talent to reach the final four this year.
5A DIVISION II
PRESEASON TOP 5
1. Tolleson: The Wolverines were Desert West Region champs last year, but their second loss to region runner-up Sunrise Mountain ended their title hopes. They have unfinished business.
2. Flowing Wells: Reached finals last season, falling to Deer Valley, but the Caballeros are always tough whether it’s 5A-I or 5A-II they’re competing in. Led by University of California-bound Rachelle Federico.
3. Centennial: The Coyotes were the fourth seed at state last year, but a one-point loss to South Mountain in the quarterfinals left them wanting like Tolleson. They have the returnees to come back.
4. Deer Valley: Three standout players graduated, but the Skyhawks should reload to compete for the title.
5. Marcos de Niza: Padres held their own in the Central last season, but their size wasn’t a match for Deer Valley’s quickness. That could change this year.
BY THE NUMBERS
2 State championships won by a Mesa school in the sport in 30 years of competition (both by Mountain View).
5 Schools in the 5A Central Region — all of which made the playoffs last season. None advanced further than the quarterfinals.
14 Local schools that qualified for last year’s 16-team 5A-I state tournament.
4A DIVISION I PRESEASON TOP 5
1. Cactus: Rebecca Tobin (6-foot-4) and Kim Lane (6-2) will be tough to handle inside for the defending champions. Can the backcourt be equally tough again?
2. Thunderbird: No reason to think this Chiefs squad can’t land another high seed and reach the semifinals again, especially with a freshman team that went 16-0 last year to supplement the roster.
3. Saguaro: Meagan Haugo can do it all, and Kelly Tweito and Rekia Richmond also return. The key will be how well freshman Lindsay Barendrick can run the show at point guard.
4. Agua Fria: No more sneaking up on people and reaching the state semifinals. The Owls aren’t likely to be a 12th seed again.
5. McClintock: Without two key starters from last year, they still have two-year starter Brittnee Perez (10 points, six assists) and her sophomore sister Stefanee in the backcourt, and Amy Patton on the wing.
4A DIVISION II PRESEASON TOP 5
1. Washington: The Rams won a championship thriller in overtime against Sinagua. Enough players return for a run at a repeat.
2. Cactus Shadows: Ryan Pletnik takes over a team that reached the state semifinals a year ago and could get there again with strong group of returnees.
3. Sinagua: Think the championship loss to Washington doesn’t burn the Mustangs?
4. Page: Had one of the top offenses in the conference last season, and new players always seem to find their way through the system.
5. Arcadia: Key pieces return from team that went 19-8 and advanced to the 4A-II quarterfinals last year. They are the favorites to repeat as East Sky Region champs.
New local coaches in 5A: There are a couple. The new guys in town are Willie Young (Desert Vista) and Joe Avalos (Westwood).
Back in business: After a oneyear hiatus, Paradise Valley enters a varsity squad in the 5A Desert Valley. The Trojans are coached by Keiko Yoshmine.
More coaching changes: Two new coaches enter the mix in the competitive 4A-I Desert Sky Region. Ryan Pletnik takes over for Bill Dolezal at Cactus Shadows. Former Horizon player and assistant Jackie Van Patten takes over at Pinnacle.