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Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Arizona, not necessarily known as a hot bed for girl's basketball but this year at the Nike TOC,  (widely regarded as the de facto championship for American girls' basketball),  Arizona saw 5 of it's own in 4 of the 6 division championship games. AZ's 2011 state champion St. Mary's won the top bracket (Smith Division).  As a result St. Mary's has earned the coveted #1 ranking by ESPN/Powerade FAB 50.

Probably not by design and some ways possibly as a result of misleading and innaccurate records the Nike TOC had Arizona's final four 5AI state teams all in different brackets, St. Mary's (Smith), Mesa Mt. View (Desper), Xavier College Prep (Gray) and Chandler (black).
Most notable, St. Mary's, came off a superb summer where as a club team (AZ Warriors), they crushed national travel teams.  They got off to kind of a slow start at the EOT.  They would win their pool but lost horribly in a exhibition game to Team Concept, who ended up winning the EOT.  Also they didn't look great against the NW Blazers.  Although after the EOT they really begin to roll, winning their pool in Chicago, putting on a clinic as they faced Boo Williams.  They got to the semis but fell a possession short to the #1 team of summer DFW.  Their next stop on the summer circuit was USJN (Washington D.C.), where they got to the championship game.  The Warriors/St. Mary's played mid-west elite to the wire but ultimately ended up falling 51-46.  It was from there the Warriors went on to win the Fila Nationals, beating teams like Cal Sparks, that feature Jordin Canada and Erical McCall in the semi's, and Lady Fire (Illinois) in the championship.  They did this as a team that features all the same kids that play at St. Mary's.  It was expected to see them high in the preseason rankings as a high school team.  The one concern going into the season was depth.  St. Mary's had two girls, Lindsay Leikam and Aliyah Dickson transfer out.  They did get Chloe Johnson of St. Mary's, the lone player who didn't travel with the Warriors this summer but jumped over to play with the Warriors this fall after spending the last couple years with GSB.  Overall St. Mary's seemed to get over the proverbial hurdle this summer and grew tremendously as a team.  Going into the high school season, rested and with a full head of steam, St. Mary's was the focus of much national media attention.  
They did not disappoint as they ran through the Smith bracket in defining fashion.  In the end, all that was in their way was an athletic, mature, experienced #3 Riverdale Baptist, that was highly regarded themselves and dominated their competition as well.  


St. Mary's seemed in the driver seat early as RB failed to convert on many drives and lay-ins, while SM's was executing timely back cuts and outside shooting.  
Cortnee Walton of SM's, after only playing a few minutes in the 1st half found herself sitting most of it in foul trouble.  Without Leikam, SM's found themselves in a peculiar spot with Walton sitting, as they had only one solid player left who could defend inside in Chantel Osahor.  To give Osahor rest at times Coach Ekmark went with a smaller line-up and for the first time in like 8 years I saw the SM's/Warriors group deploy a zone defense.  That is about when RB Coach Richardson went down after being knocked unconscious.  One of her players was shoved in a play near the sideline and the player's arm caught Coach Richardson in the chin.  There was about a 20 minute delay as Coach Richardson was checked out by the athletic trainer on-site and also Chandler paramedics.  This bid well for St. Mary's.  For it allowed Osahor to get the rest she needed to finish the game after Walton fouled out in the 3rd.  Riverdale Baptist fought hard to the end but were in too deep a whole to dig themselves out of by the time expired.  Chantel Osahor and Shilpa Tummala were named to the all-tournament team.  Shilpa also got MVP honors.


Preceding the Smith Championship game, Mesa Mt. View squared off against Pinnacle for the Desper Championship.  Pinnacle was somewhat of a surprise team to get to the championship, having to fight and claw their way through an athletic Canyon Springs and disciplined Highland's Ranch.  
Pinnacle lost the inside presence they had from a year ago in Aley Rohde (UofA).  They were looking to fill the spot with senior Emily Whalberg, but Whalberg decided to leave the team just weeks prior for personal reasons.  Pinnacle also lost junior small forward Britta Nordstrom.  Who also left the team for personal reasons.  That left Pinnacle short handed for the most prestigious girl's high school tournament of the year. 
MMV, my preseason AZ #2, has been playing up to their expectations.  They have lost only one game in the preseason, and that was to the eventual Anderson bracket champs LJCD, who beat MMV in San Diego a few weeks prior to the TOC.  Mesa Mt. View did get a close contested game against Xavier 46-40 on December 12th, but other than that, have been rolling through their competition.
MMV would be without the services of Arnecia Hawkins (ASU commit) for the final due to a sprained ankle.  Pinnacle implored their go to junk defense (diamond & 1), face guarding MMV starting point guard Renee Coggins and zoning the other four players on the floor. The defense proved to be effective.  Although Renee is not known for her scoring prowess, she is their general and not having the ball in her hands seemed to leave Mt. View with more questions than answers.  One could only assume the defense was intended for Arnecia Hawkins but with her out of the game Pinnacle still kept to their game plan by focusing on Coggins.  MMV is also a very systematic team that largely relies on Coach Pennel's infamous 'circle motion offense' and half court sets.  Pinnacle's diamond and one was forcing Mt. View to make adjustments they weren't prepared nor wanted to make.

The game was exciting, tightly scored and came down to a last second shot by Kenna McDavis that rimmed in&out but Mt. View reigned victorious on this day.  Wiese did poor in 24 pts in the loss but took 26 shots to do so.  No doubt Pinnacle could have used their other slinger in McDavis who was forced to sit a lot with foul trouble. 


In the Gray Division, AZ had a slew of teams that were all capable of getting to the 'ship'.  In a lot of ways it pendulummed on bracket placement, match-ups and momentum.  St. Mary's and Mesa Mt. View are AZ's obvious #1 & #2 but the next six spots for an elite eight is pretty much a crap shoot between Highland, Hamilton, Xavier, Pinnacle, Chandler & Desert Vista.   All of whom are very familiar with each other.  Xavier, Hamilton, Chandler and DV all played in the very tough Fiesta Region last year and faced each other twice in the regular season.  All except maybe DV have St. Mary's on their schedule each year.  Xavier two years in a row had to go through Highland in the quarters of state as well as play them twice in their regular season schedule.  All of which can lead to some of the misleading records.   Last year Xavier drew two time defending Florida state champions Dillard in the Nike TOC.  Xavier won that game but had to follow it up against Edison with Bonnie (Stanford) and Karlie Samuelson.  After falling to Edison the road didn't get easier for Xavier as they had to face Carondelet, which featured Erica Payne (Stanford). 
Both Hamilton and Xavier seem to be struggling finding their indentity this year, with Hamilton graduating some key components, short a true point guard and post.  Xavier is adjusting to their third coach in three years.  Highland is steady.  They always come on strong and develop more complexity throughout the year and strength.  Pinnacle and Chandler have had their issues with personel, Chandler loosing Newton to a knee injury, Westbrook for 9 games, and Pinnacle had two starters quit this year. 
The cinderella of teams has to be Desert Vista.  A team that always seems to be around but lacked the punch to be considered with the heavy hitters.  DV did retain some key components from a year ago but still nothing on paper that would wow anyone.  They have to be considered a tough oponent but not expected to be a contender.  Although they have seemed to found something this year.

DV gave Pinnacle a scare in the first game of the season, only loosing 68-75.  They also ended up loosing to Highland but by only a possession, 60-63 in their second game.  Since, they have been riding a 6 game winning streak going into the Nike TOC.  They extended that winning streak to 9 getting to the finals of the Gray bracket.  They gave a good fight in the championship but Centennial (Corona, CA) proved to have too many weapons. 

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