Depending on your generational outlook, either a Beach Boys tune (for the Old School) or a 2Pac ditty (for the Newer School) served as soundtrack during the recently completed high-school girls' basketball season. Whether you swayed to "California Girls" or head-bobbed to "California Love," the scene was dominated nationally by teams from Cali.
That our ESPN HoopGurlz Team of the Year would hail from the Golden State almost was a foregone conclusion since that state filled each of the four semifinal spots in December at the Nike Tournament of Champions, the grandmamma of all high-school tournaments. Back then, it was Mater Dei of Santa Ana, Calif., that survived the impromptu but rare faceoff between California schools spanning three different classifications. But the Monarchs also would have to pass the test of time.
Except for a stumble against arch-rival Brea Olinda, which it righted in the Southern California sectional championship, Mater Dei passed that test, essentially completing a round-robin of victories over Brea, St. Mary's of Stockton and Long Beach Poly, the other TOC semifinalists. And in a year like this, winning California meant winning the nation.
"The best basketball is on the West Coast," Poly coach Carl Buggs said after his team vanquished Whitney Young, a talented invader from the Midwest.
That point is difficult to argue. The ESPN HoopGurlz staff concluded that Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, a junior at Mater Dei, was the country's best high-school performer. And after traveling and viewing all the top contenders in person, the staff was unanimous in its selection of Mater Dei as the country's best high-school team in the absence of an all-encompassing national championship.
We feel confident in our choice because California itself offers a tough obstacle course. All of its main contenders traveled and played a national schedule, so their results against each other had added context. Mater Dei also overcame many self-imposed gut checks. There was USA Basketball pick Alexyz Vaioletama's season-long injury, senior starter Lauren Rock's season-ending injury and the internal strife that led to the transfer of sophomore guard Taylor Spears to Brea.
Mater Dei's Kevin Kiernan called it the "toughest" of his 20 years in coaching.
Oddly enough, with Vaioletama back in the fold, Jessica Duarte having emerged as another force, the further development of Jordan Adams into what many consider the top college prospect in the 2012 class and Mosqueda-Lewis consolidating her status atop the high-school nation, the easiest thing on Mater Dei's plate may be repeating a national championship.
The other top contenders in 2009-10:
2. St. Mary's: Coach Tom Gonsalves' comments after the Rams' CIF Division III championship chafed many because, in typical girls' basketball fashion, he didn't just make a case for his team as national No. 1, he took some shots at Mater Dei to do so. Fortunately for him and his program, stars Chelsea Gray and Afure Jemerigbe, and a strong supporting cast that pressured and shot threes, conferred a regal quality upon St. Mary's for a great, three-year run. The Rams' body of work matched up well with that of Mater Dei but the tie-breaker had to be head-to-head encounters, and the Monarchs beat St. Mary's 66-60 in the TOC championship game. Case closed.
3. Ben Davis: The Giants don't satisfy the usual criteria for national consideration because they didn't play outside Indiana. But it's hard to argue against a team that was our nod last year as national No. 1, then followed up with an unbeaten season which it punctuated with a state-championship victory that set records for points and margin of victory. During the career of Purdue-bound Dee Dee Williams, Ben Davis has gone 100-7, won 58 straight games, won back-to-back state championships and a mythical national title. When you talk about body of work, it doesn't include national-level wins, but it's otherwise close to perfect.
4. Brea Olinda: A lot of us walked away from the TOC thinking Brea was the most impressive team we'd seen. Only a Regina Camera miracle 3-pointer for St. Mary's robbed the Wildcats of a chance at a TOC title. Then they went and beat Potter's House and Mater Dei during the next month and emerged in national championship talk. This was all the more impressive because their marvelous post, Justine Hartman, a Boston College commit, was down with an ACL injury. Now she is back for another year, with sophomores Keitra Wallace and Jeanier Olukemi having gone through the fires. Next year, their rematches with Mater Dei should be battle royales.
5. Bolingbrook: The Raiders have plenty of quality victories -- nationally against Dillard (Fla.) and Norcross (Ga.) at the TOC and in state over Montini Catholic and nationally tested rival Whitney Young in the Illinois championship game -- but to our eyes lacked some of the luster with which they gleamed during their coming out the previous year. They played as young and tentatively in being rocked by Long Beach Poly as they did the year before in the TOC championship. Marvelous Morgan Tuck spent most of the season gearing back up from an ACL injury, and Ariel Massengale, the best point guard in the 2010 class, will return next year for another run at national No. 1.
6. Cy-Fair: Like other Texas public schools, the Bobcats could not leave the state to play, and an ACL injury to Odyssey Sims nullified a sturdy in-state test against MacArthur. So we had to resort to the look test to determine that they indeed belonged among the nation's best. On a team led by our No. 1 prospect, Chiney Ogwumike, what's really not to like? Especially since her on-court sidekick was explosive junior Cassie Peoples. At least Cy-Fair spared us the consternation of debating it as a No. 1 candidate by losing inexplicably to Summit early in the season.
7. Potter's House Christian: The Lions virtually are a team without a state, but they do have a National Christian School championship. We saw them plenty, from sea to shining sea, and believe most, if not all, of their losses are due to their being on a perpetual road trip (34 of 40 games around the country). However, if there were a tournament on neutral ground, with all teams subject to the same conditions, Potter's House, with Antoinette Bannister, Loliya Briggs, Brittany Roundtree and a frenetic cast for a frenetic road show that goes on and on, would be one of our favorites to take it all.
8. Norcross: What's another team with four losses doing in a national top 10? Well, the Blue Devils have quality losses (St. Mary's, Bolingbrook and in state to Mill Creek), quality national wins (Ramsay of Alabama, ThunderRidge of Colorado) and maybe the quality win of all quality wins -- a victory over Redan in the state-championship game that halted a record-breaking, unbeaten season by the Raiders of Stone Mountain, Ga. Such a roller coaster probably should not be a surprise when the team is led by freshmen, great as they are. As a duo, none are better than Kaela Davis and Diamond DeShields.
9. Mt. Lebanon: There are some very good, Division I-bound components in Madison Cable, Jess Babe and Anna Kestler, but this is a great example of a team that is better as the sum of its parts. The Blue Devils' only two losses were to California powerhouses Brea Olinda and St. Mary's, and the Blue Devils otherwise collected three wins at the TOC and another at the T-Mobile Invitational. They also produced an impressive win in the state semifinal, rocking Central Dauphin and its star, Alyssa Thomas, by 18. A bulk of this team was together for four years, developing that machine-like precision, but Cable and Kestler return for another run next year.
10. Long Beach Poly: The presence of the Jackrabbits here will trouble some, but not us. Living up to their nickname, they were the fastest team we saw all year, showed toughness up and down the roster and got plenty of star power from junior point guard Ariya Crook-Williams. Poly's loss to Oak Ridge, also a victor earlier in the season over Brea, in the Division I title game is troublesome. However, in Poly's case, we not only present the eyeball test, but a season's body of work that includes impressive national-level victories over Bolingbrook, New York federation champ Christ the King, St. Michael Academy (N.Y.), Oregon champion Southridge and Whitney Young.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, he formerly coached girl's club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rest of the ESPN HoopGurlz Panel
Lisa Bodine is a national evaluator for ESPN HoopGurlz. A native of Queens, N.Y., she began her coaching career in 1993 with the NY Gazelles, has coached with D.C.-based Team Unique, and in 2009 she was named DAC Co-Coach of the Year after leading Wakefield Country Day School in Flint Hill, Va., to its first-ever conference title. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz andcovers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Kelvin Powell is a national evaluator for ESPN HoopGurlz. A former coach and club-program director, he operates Roundball Journal, a leading prep scouting service, and is a contributing editor at SLAM Magazine, as well as a member of the McDonald's All-American and the Gatorade National and State Player of the Year Selection Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lindsay Schnell is a staff writer for HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Oregon State University, she has been involved in the Oregon girls' basketball community for most her life as a player, high school coach, writer and fan. She also has been regular contributor to The Oregonian and won several awards for her writing. She can be reached at email@example.com.