Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Fillies at the First Turn

I've spent the first one-third of the 2009-2010 basketball season focused on the high school girls, mostly the better AAAA teams. I've seen 8 teams that have been ranked among the AAAA top 10 at one time or another and, arguably, 12 of the current top 20. I've also seen about half of the top 50 rated girls in the state, since they're concentrated to some degree among the large metro schools. Here are my ratings going into the second (conference) and third (play-offs) seasons.

AAAA Top 10 and Contenders

1. Lakeville North Panthers (10-0). Tongues were sent a-wagging at a newspaper article in which the Lakeville girls proclaimed their goal of being the best team ever in Minnesota girls ball. It seems a little premature, not to mention foolhardly. Such claims are sure to be used against them in every locker room in the Lake Conference. I saw the Panthers out-score Eastview 29-4 in the second half of one game last year, then lose to the Lightning in the section final. Lakeville needs to show it can excel consistently before talking much more than it already has. Still, having the #1 rated players among the 2010s (6-4 post and Wisconsin Badger recruit Cassie Rochel) and 2011s (point guard Rachel Banham, a Minnesota Gopher recruit), would seem to be a pretty good start toward a state championship. And given the travails that most of the other contenders have experienced already this season, they're the prohibitive favorite. They wrapped up the "first season" by winning 3 games down in Rochester by an average of 78-24.

2. Edina Hornets (10-0). Point guard Katybeth Biewen, a sophomore, and swing man Taylor Young, a senior, lead the Hornets, but Grace Veker and Jamie Bresnahan are solid, too, especially on defense. Young was prone to passivity in the past but she's been much more aggressive this year. Biewen, a first-year starter, has been aggressive on both ends of the court from the get-go. I saw her get 11 steals against Hill-Murray. The Hornets wrapped up 2009 by beating highly rated White Bear Lake with surprising ease, 64-48

3. Eden Prairie Eagles (8-2). Eden Prairie looked unbeatable early on, then lost 2 games by a total of 3 points at the Hopkins holiday tournament. The Eagles run like the wind and out-score people. Slow 'em down and you've got a chance. 6-3 sophomore post Jackie Johnson is a stronger version of Cassie Rochel, but she needs to stay out of foul trouble because the Eagles are lacking in depth.

4. White Bear Lake Bears (9-2). The Bears have the best mix of inside and out, and starting five and bench strength this side of Lakeville North. But they may lack the go-to, superstar player that the truly great teams have. Their losses are to the last two AAAA unbeatens, and the facts that Edina beat them by 9 more points than Lakeville North did is interesting.

5. Eastview Lightning (7-3). Started slowly, losing to Eden Prairie and White Bear Lake early on. Then, they impressed by surviving the cut-throat bracket at the Dick's Sporting Goods tournament in Hopkins, only to get clobbered by the host Royals by 21 in the final. The catch is that point guard Haley Thomforde missed that game with an ankle injury. When Thomforde is at full speed, the Lightning's 4 and 5-guard sets run like a top and Eastview always seems to get the shot they want.

6. Chaska Hawks (7-1). Chaska won the second best holiday tournament at Hill-Murray, though it took a 2OT effort in the semis to get past Centennial. Still, the Hawks probably have the best 3-deep bona fide frontcourt among the elite teams, and they're one of the few that aren't going to throw a 4-man guard set at you. They man-handled a good Prior Lake team in the final.

7. Bloomington Kennedy (8-2). The Eagles took a pair of surprising losses to Prior Lake and Rochester Lourdes after a great start. They're a lot like Chaska in that they'd be a lot better if basketball was played 4-on-4 instead of 5-on-5, and junior point guard Aubrey Davis is the real deal.

8. Hopkins Royals (7-5). Just when you think the Royals are really down, they get point guard Brianna Williams back and win 3 straight at the Dick's Sporting Goods tournament. Of course, it's also true that the lower bracket at Dick's came in with a record of 16-17 while the upper bracket was at 24-4, and it's also true that Eastview's Haley Thomforde wasn't able to play in the final. Still, Williams makes the Royals a whole new team and there is substantial size and strength inside with Hana Potter and Tori Joranson.

9. Maple Grove Crimson (7-2). Like Eden Prairie, Maple Grove came into the Dick's Classic unbeaten and left with 2 losses--and, in their case, despite beating the other unbeaten themselves. So, will the real Crimson please stand up? Senior post Julie Kruse had a great tournament, but guards Stephanie Davidson, Ellen Edison and Jen Field only had one great game. The loss to 6-4 Osseo especially hurts because they're a fellow resident of Section 5AAAA.

10. Centennial Cougars (6-4). The defending state runners-up are also Section 5AAAA residents and have what looks like an easy choice for Ms. Basketball finalist in Megan Waytashek, who scored 86 points in 3 Hill-Murray tournament games. Other than point guard Kahla Becken, however, Waytashek doesn't have a lot of help.

Honorable Mention. In alpha order, the following teams could cause trouble at least for the second 5, whether in sectional or state tournament play: Burnsville (5-1), Mpls. South (4-4), Minnetonka (7-3), Mounds View (7-2), Osseo (6-4) and Rosemount (8-1).

Classes AAA, AA and A

I have not seen most of these teams but based on what I've read and heard, there are clear favorites in each class. In AAA, it is DeLaSalle under new coach Faith Patterson, especially now that Benilde-St. Margaret's has taken its first loss. In AA, it's New London-Spicer, and in A it's still Barnum.

Ms. Basketball

Among girls I've seen this year--and, now, in any class--5 top Ms. Basketball contenders are:

Suriya McGuire, Mpls. Roosevelt
Hana Potter, Hopkins
Haley Thomforde, Eastview
Megan Waytashek, Centennial
Taylor Young, Edina

Among girls I haven't seen this year (but I've seen all of them last year and over the summer), based on what I've heard, the top 5 contenders are:

Angela Christianson, Alexandria
Ameshia Kearney, Mpls. South
Katrina Newman, Barnum
Sari Noga, Parkers Prairie
Cassie Rochel, Lakeville North

If I had to pick just 5 today it would be (again, in alpha order) Newman, Noga, Rochel, Thomford and Waytashek. And Ms. Basketball as of today would be Waytashek, who passes up Noga and Rochel based on her (Waytashek's) 67 points against Chaska and Hill-Murray in the Cougars' final two games at Hill-Murray.

Coach of the Year

The early favorite for Coach of the Year is Mike Dreier of AA #1 and perennially powerful, machine-like and fun to watch New London-Spicer.

Behind Mike are Andy Berkvam, Lakeville North in AAAA; Eric Lindner, Worthington in AAA; and Mike Kelly, Cedar Mountain in A. Hawley's Bill Gottenborg rounds out a Top 5.

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