Many high school teams around the country rely on two studly stars. Coaches employ a duo that packs a 1-2 punch to leave opponents guessing or confused -- rarely can such a duo be stopped, except by equally tough opponents.
And while junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and sophomore Jordan Adams, among the best in their respective classes, certainly provide another level of two-person on-court threats, Mater Dei puzzle has a third piece that may need to be titled "the difference maker."
Enter junior Alexyz Vaioletama, the USA Basketball U16 teammate of Mosqueda-Lewis and Adams. With a trio of gold-medal winners, it's tough to argue with Mater Dei as the No. 1 team in the country.
Except things are up in the air right now for the Monarchs, who went 32-1 and lost in California's Division II semifinals to nearby Brea Olinda a year ago. As of Monday, Vaioletama has not been cleared to play, due to stress fractures in her legs.
"She's only a junior and we don't want to do anything to put her in harm's way," Mater Dei coach Kevin Kiernan said. "If she plays on them and the bone breaks, they might have to put a rod in it and she'd never play again."
Vaioletama was diagnosed after a busy summer including May USA Basketball trials, July exposure tournaments and an August trip to Mexico where the U16 team finished first and qualified for the U17 Worlds. Her doctor, who works with Mater Dei athletics, asked her to take some time off to rest her legs. Updated tests two weeks ago led him to believe the stress fractures hadn't healed at all.
"She can walk fine," Kiernan said. "It's just went she runs and jumps, she's in pain."
So for now, it's a slow process with an uncertain end. Vaioletama is still on order to rest and recover, while the doctor will be checking her status every couple of weeks. On the court, Adams and Mosqueda-Lewis will be at the forefront of a Mater Dei team that's still talented enough to compete with the best in the country, which it will do at a couple of key tournaments during December.
St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.) holds the top spot to begin the 2009-10 season, although the Rams aren't necessarily the overwhelming favorite they were a year ago. The California Division III champions didn't graduate a single player from the squad that went 31-3 and finished No. 9 in the ESPN Rise Fab 50. With Chelsea Gray, the Duke-bound No. 4 player in the 2010 class, and Afure Jemerigbe, No. 15 and headed to California, joining forces for the final time, this Rams squad that has been the subject of a documentary and a possible television series hopes to put together a special season.
The Place to Be
In early November, we run the gamut from states that start practice later in the month to states rolling out the preseason this week. If you're in Indiana, check out No. 14 Ben Davis (Indianapolis) when it begins defense of its 4A title Saturday at Brownsburg (Ind.), while in Texas, No. 7 Cy-Fair (Cypress, Texas) and No. 11 MacArthur (Irving, Texas) also begin their seasons this week.
Meighan Simmons likely will break a familiar record this season. The Steele (Cibolo, Texas) star, who is headed to Tennessee next year, is 343 points from breaking the San Antonio career scoring mark of 2,759 points. Simmons, who averaged 24.9 points as a junior, could break the record as early as December -- a record held by former Texas star and WNBA/ABL player, and Simmons' club basketball coach, Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil. ... Another team with multiple players with international experience, No. 4 Bolingbrook (Ill.), will have both players available to start the season. Morgan Tuck, among the top players in the 2012 class, has been cleared to play after undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior-cruciate ligament (ACL) that she suffered during the USA Basketball trials in May. ... In the inaugural edition of the HoopGurlz HS Nation Top 25, the Southeast and Northeast regions combine for 13 of the 25 ranked teams. And while California teams hold two of the top three spots, and another lays wait in the top 10, they are the only West region teams in the top 25. A year ago, Indiana proved the cream of the basketball crop, but with a new season upon us, the new dynamic will soon be sorted out on the court.
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Mindi Rice is an ESPN HoopGurlz staff writer. She previously was an award-winning sportswriter at the Tacoma News Tribune and a barista at Starbucks, and grew up in Seattle, where she attended Roosevelt High School before graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism. She can be reached at email@example.com.