Tournament of Champions preview

Anna Kestler's feeds to Madison Cable (22) will be a key to the success of Mt. Lebanon (Pittsburgh, Pa.) at the Nike Tournament of Champions. Glenn Nelson/ESPN.com

Is the temperature is heating up? Are flowers are beginning to bloom? It must be that time of year for March Madness. But Christmas lights are all around, so just what in the heck is going on?

The 2011 Nike Tournament of Champions is what's bringing that basketball tournament flare to December. Through last season, 105 state champions have laced up their sneakers and competed at the top high-school girls' basketball tournament in the country. For more than a decade the TOC has brought a national-championship caliber event to the holiday season. Last year the gift that kept on giving was Mater Dei, which won the event and ended the season ranked No. 1 in the FAB 50. Will the Monarchs repeat in 2011? It would mean completing an entire season atop the POWERADE FAB 50.

Four games in five days as well as 15 teams stand in the way of that feat being repeated. Here is a breakdown of the 16-team Joe Smith bracket that very well could deliver the 2010-11 high school national champion:

Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland, Calif.)

Current Record (as of 12/12/10): 0-1
2009 Record: 27-4
2009 TOC: did not play
Impact Player(s): P Odera Chidom, Soph., 6-3
Key Losses: W Robbie Mayberry; G Mikayla Lyles
X-Factor: P Brianna Brown, Soph., 6-3; PG Ariell Bostick, Soph., 5-5
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: Bishop O'Dowd is not short, neither in height nor talent. The team is incredibly young, making it a long shot to take home the first-place trophy. What is scary is that the team will be young again next year and will have this experience to draw on. On the perimeter, sophomore Ariell Bostick is one of the few under 6-0 on the floor, but can play. In the post Odera Chidom has big upside as well. This group will be tested which could help the youngsters when regional and sectional playoffs come calling this spring.

Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.)

Current Record (as of 12/07/10): 4-1
2009 Record: 27-5
2009 TOC: 1-3 (Desper Division)
Impact Player(s): G Zhane Dikes, Jr., 5-9; G April Rivers; Soph. 5-5; F Chelsie Pitt, Sr., 6-0
Key Losses: PG Aaryn Ellenberg
X-Factor: W Diamond Major, Soph., 5-11; W Ashlin Gross, Sr., 6-0
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: Sheryl Krmpotich's Gaels are defending state champions in Nevada but graduated Aaryn Ellenberg, one of the best guards in school history. Coach K brings to the court this season what she considers the fastest team she's ever coached. Bishop Gorman will feature pressure defense and a lot of running. The team has balanced scoring so defending the team will not be as simple as keying on Ellenberg as it was a year ago. Keep an eye on Diamond Major, she is just starting to figure out how to use her athleticism on offense and, if she brings it, her team will begin to soar.

Bolingbrook (Bolingbrook, Ill.)

Current Record (as of 12/12/10): 3-0
2009 Record: 29-1
2009 TOC: 3-1(Smith Division)
Impact Player(s): PG Ariel Massengale, Sr., 5-6; F Morgan Tuck, Jr., 6-2
Key Losses: G Nicosia Henry; G Mercedes Griffin
X-Factor: F Taylor Tuck, Sr., 6-0
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: Bolingbrook is loaded and already battle-tested after traveling to Tennessee for the Turkey Jamm in November. The squad proved it could handle elite teams by taking care of Memphis Central. Ariel Massengale and Morgan Tuck are special players and can single-handedly carry a team. Morgan's younger sister, Taylor, could be the difference maker in Bolingbrook taking the TOC crown. The team lost only one game last year, in this same tournament. It's the one thing left for this program to prove and winning could mean a national title.

Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.)

Current Record (as of 12/12/10): 7-0
2009 Record: 31-3
2009 TOC: 3-1 (Smith Division)
Impact Player(s): P Justine Hartman, Sr., 6-3; W Amber VanDeudekom, Sr., 5-10
Key Losses: G Kelsey Harris
X-Factor: G Taylor Spears, Jr., 5-9; G Jeanier Olukeme, Jr. 5-11; W Keitra Wallace
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: Already having beaten No. 6 Memphis Central and No. 9 Long Beach Poly, Jeff Sink's program comes in as one of the favorites. Amber VanDeudekom is leading the team in scoring early and Brea is getting major contributions from junior wings Taylor Spears and Jeanier Olukeme. The perimeter players are thriving with one of the best post finishers in the country, Justine Hartman, drawing defensive attention in the paint. The question may be if Olukeme, Spears and Keitra Wallace can spark big runs with their collective athleticism without taking the team out of its sets.

Christ the King High School (Middle Village, N.Y.)

Current Record (as of 12/12/10): 1-1
2009 Record: 26-5
2009 TOC: 2-2 (Smith Division)
Impact Player(s): G Bria Smith, Sr., 5-10; W Nia Oden, Sr., 5-10
Key Losses: F Ariel Edwards
X-Factor: G Lauren Nuss, Jr., 5-9
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: Even in supposed down years, Christ the King competes at a high level. With Bria Smith back at guard it's hard to believe that the Royals are down. They did graduate Ariel Edwards, but Smith and fellow senior Nia Oden return to lead a team that went 2-2 in this tournament a season ago. The player who might be overlooked but could very well make or break the tournament is Lauren Nuss, who gives coach Bob Mackey a complementary weapon on the perimeter to Smith and Oden's attacking style. If Nuss can get hot from long range as she did against Bishop Ford this squad can get rolling.

Highlands Ranch (Highlands Ranch, Colo.)

Current Record (as of 12/12/10): 3-1
2009 Record: 22-4
2009 TOC: 3-1 (Desper Division)
Impact Player(s): G Lindsay Mallon, Sr., 5-9; G Tierra Shumpert,
Key Losses: W Sendy Valles
X-Factor: P Katelyn McDaniel
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: Caryn Jarocki is no stranger to winning or the TOC. She brings her team in coming off a disappointing season a year ago. It was considered a disappointment because anything short of a state championship is for Highland's Ranch. But this year's squad is senior-loaded and guards Lindsay Mallon and Tierra Shumpert will lead the charge. Against the biggest and baddest teams in the country Jaroki will need senior post Katelyn McDaniel to be playing strong inside if this squad wants to play spoiler.

Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)

Current Record (as of 12/12/10): 6-0
2009 Record: 32-1
2009 TOC: 4-0 (Smith Division)
Impact Player(s): W Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Sr., 6-0; G Jordan Adams, Jr., 6-1
Key Losses: G Taylor Spears (transfer)
X-Factor: F Alexyz Vaioletama, Sr., 6-1; F Karina Alofaituli, Sr., 6-0
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: The dynamic duo of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Jordan Adams see the return of Alexyz Vaioletama, who missed last season with an injury. Her return, along with the addition of Karina Alofaituli more than makes up for the loss of Taylor Spears, who transferred to Brea Olinda last winter -- on paper. This team has four potential McDonald's All-Americans as well as proven role players like Alexas Williamson, a junior guard, and Jessica Duarte, a senior forward heading to Cal State-Northridge next year. Chemistry will be the key for this heavily favored group, which is long and physical up and down the lineup.

Memphis Central (Memphis, Tenn.)

Current Record (as of 12/12/10): 7-2
2009 Record: 27-4
2009 TOC: 2-2 (Smith Division)
Impact Player(s): G Danielle Ballard, Jr., 5-9; W Aaliyah Whiteside, Jr., 5-11; G Nina Davis, Soph., 5-10
Key Losses: G Malaika Moore
X-Factor: F Jalen O'Bannon, Jr., 6-0; W Tia Wooten, Fr., 5-9
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: Just about everyone is back for Niki Bray's team. For two years now Memphis Central has believed it could compete nationally, and has, but slipped up in the state playoffs. This year a brutal schedule is expected to lead to the Lady Warriors being prepared for the top teams in Tennessee. The trio of Danielle Ballard, Aaliyah Whiteside and Nina Davis gives Bray plenty of quickness and explosiveness on the perimeter. If the team can get contributions from freshman wing Tia Wooten, it may be as deep as any in the country on the perimeter. The team also needs Jalen O'Bannon to play out of position in the post if it wants to hang with the top teams in the country.

Monarch (Louisville, Colo.)

Current Record (as of 12/12/10): 2-0
2009 Record: 25-4
2009 TOC: did not play
Impact Player(s): G Eliza Normen, Sr., 6-1; F Alexus Johnson, Jr., 6-2
Key Losses: G Alex Evans
X-Factor: G Ashton Davis, Jr., 5-8; G Rebecca Richmond, Jr., 5-7
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: Monarch is led by a two-headed monster. Eliza Normen can effectively play any position at the high-school level. Teaming her with Alexus Johnson, a top-tier athlete with take-over ability, gives Monarch a formidable inside-outside combination. Going deep in the tournament will mean getting contributions from role players like Rebecca Richmond and Ashton Davis. Those two can help defenses from keying on two superstars too much.

Mt. Lebanon (Pittsburgh, Pa.)

Current Record (as of 12/10/10): 0-0
2009 Record: 29-2
2009 TOC: 2-2 (Smith Division)
Impact Player(s): W Madison Cable, Sr., 5-11
Key Losses: G Jessica Babe; G Hailey Carangelo
X-Factor: PG Anna Kestler, Sr., 5-8
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: Pennsylvania powerhouse Mt. Lebanon returns its top player, Madison Cable, to a team that lost only two games last year, both to top teams at the TOC. Dori Oldaker's team again is favored to win the AAAA state title. Anna Kestler may be the key to the Blue Devils' season as she will be relied on more to create for her teammates with Jessica Babe now at Central Connecticut State.

Polytechnic (Long Beach, Calif.)

Current Record (as of 12/12/10): 3-2
2009 Record: 32-3
2009 TOC: 2-2 (Smith Division)
Impact Player(s): PG Ariya Crook-Williams, Sr., 5-7; F Sheila Boykin, Sr., 6-2
Key Losses: F Thaddesia Southall
X-Factor: W Tajanae Winston, Sr., 5-10
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: When are Carl Buggs' Jackrabbits not loaded? This year's edition returns key seniors with point guard Ariya Crook-Williams and her ability to take over games, as well as one of the best interior players in the country, Sheila Boykin. The team always comes ripe with unsung players providing depth and athleticism. The team already is battle-tested by locking horns with Brea Olinda. Consistency has been the issue in trying to go 4-0 in such an elite field but on any given day there is no reason to think Poly can't beat anyone in the country.

Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.)

Current Record (as of 12/12/10): 8-2
2009 Record: 22-8
2009 TOC: 1-3 (Smith Division)
Impact Player(s): PG Tyonna Williams, Sr., 5-6; F Jennie Simms, Jr., 6-0
Key Losses: F Tierra Hawkins; G Ataira Franklin; Tasia Butler (transfer)
X-Factor: W Kalila Atkinson, Jr., 5-11
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: Diane Richardson brings her squad back to the TOC for redemption. This highly talented squad has a senior point guard in Tyonna Williams who keeps the engine running for 32 minutes. She has some young interior players to play off of, most notably Jennie Simms. The key for Riverdale Baptist will be limiting turnovers and the health of Kalila Atkinson who is returning from a knee injury last spring. This is a team that likes to pressure the length of the court and get after opponents so it may provide some fireworks.

Santa Monica (Santa Monica, Calif.)

Current Record (as of 12/12/10): 9-0
2009 Record: 28-7
2009 TOC: 3-1 (Black Division)
Impact Player(s): G Moriah Faulk, Sr., 5-9; G Bianka Balthazar, Sr., 5-11
Key Losses: PG Thea Lemberger
X-Factor: G Brianna Harris, Soph., 5-9
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: The team lost its point guard from an impressive run last year but the versatility of the returning players should make them a force to contend with regardless. Moriah Faulk and Bianka Balthazar can play any perimeter position and offer defense, scoring and leadership. The emergence of senior Kristina Johnson has helped fill the void of Thea Lemberger's graduation. With teams keying on Balthazar and Faulk the key to success may be young players, like Brianna Harris, stepping up and providing some playmaking.

St. Mary's Catholic (Hamilton, Ontario)

Current Record (as of 12/12/10): 34-2
2009 Record: 34-11
2009 TOC: did not play
Impact Player(s): PG Karly Roser, Sr., 5-10
Key Losses: F Alexandra Yantzi
X-Factor: F April Coyne, Jr., 6-1
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: The season in Ontario ended in mid-November with Rich Wesolowski's team notching the school's 10th Class AAAA Provincial championship and sixth in the last 10 years. The team is led by senior point guard Karly Roser, a Northwestern signee. Roser is the engine that makes this team go. She is a classic point guard who makes plays with the pass first. For St. Mary's to be successful it will need its tallest player, April Coyne, to come up big, as the Canadians will be among the smallest teams in the Joe Smith Division.

St. Mary's (Phoenix, Ariz.)

Current Record (as of 12/12/10): 4-0
2009 Record: 23-6
2009 TOC: 1-3 (Smith Division)
Impact Player(s): G Shilpa Tummala, Jr., 5-11; F Cortnee Walton, Jr., 6-3
Key Losses: P Hailee Rhymes
X-Factor: G Courtney Ekmark, Fr., 6-0
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: This squad returns almost entirely intact from a season ago. But the key addition is his daughter, freshman Courtney Ekmark, who brings long-range shooting to an otherwise balanced and entertaining team. She joins the scoring of Shilpa Tummala and the inside presence of Cortnee Walton as well as the Williams twins who bring depth and skill to the perimeter. St. Mary's is basically the hometown team and has last year as experience to draw on.

St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.)

Current Record (as of 12/12/10): 1-0
2009 Record: 34-1
2009 TOC: 3-1 (Smith Division)
Impact Player(s): W Ali Gibson, Sr., 6-0; F Kendall Kenyon, Sr. 6-1
Key Losses: PG Chelsea Gray; W Afure Jemerigbe; G Alle Moreno
X-Factor: PG Onome Jemerigbe, Soph., 5-5
Odds to win it all:
Synopsis: Tom Gonsalves coached his team to a nearly perfect season and the No. 2 ranking in the country a season ago. The team's only loss came at the hands of Mater Dei at the TOC. This isn't the same team with two of the top 15 players in last year's senior class now in college. One thing is for certain: Gonsalves' teams always press and always shoot the three. This season should be no different. Ali Gipson and Kendall Kenyon give the team threats to score both from the perimeter as well as in the paint. Though not a favorite for the first time in a long while, this team could definitely play spoiler with the three-ball as the great equalizer.

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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers 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 chris.hansen@espn.com.