Very few teams in a single-A classification take on as tough of a schedule as Jan Azar and her Wesleyan Wolves (Norcross, Ga.). The team finally cracked the POWERADE FAB 50 three weeks ago. Coming into Saturday's match-up with Gwinnett County rival Buford (Buford, Ga.), ranked 13th in last week's FAB 50, Wesleyan was 1-2 against ranked teams.
Before moving on to a long conference schedule against small schools ill-equipped to handle the small-school powerhouse, Wesleyan had the Buford game to make a statement, which it did with a 48-37 victory on Buford's home floor.
Wesleyan's first test came early in the season when the Wolves pulled off a 47-46 upset over then-No. 27 Hoover (Hoover, Ala.). The narrow victory left many wondering if it was an isolated event or a preview of big things to come.
The next test came on the road, in Myrtle Beach, S.C., when Wesleyan played then-No. 24 Spring Valley (Columbia, S.C.). The powerful and athletic opponent was too much for Wesleyan and handed the Wolves their first loss of the season, 62-44. But there was no time for sulking as Wesleyan was matched up the next day with then- No. 13 Norcross (Norcross, Ga.), the team's cross-town, big-school rival.
Azar's squad couldn't channel the mojo it had from the Hoover game and lost to Norcross by a single point.
"This team is probably the deepest team we've had," Azar said.
That's high praise considering the program has won seven state championships since 2002 and has shown up in the national rankings in years past. The team has just one senior, Grace Leah Baughn, who last week was leading the team in scoring with 15.3 points per game. Baughn may not be the high-profile name that Anne Marie Armstrong, now a sophomore at the University of Georgia, was for Wesleyan in 2009, but Azar believes that balance and depth are the strengths of the team and a big star isn't needed.
In Saturday night's raucous environment at Buford, it was junior point guard Jordan Frazier who carried the load early, scoring nine straight points to knock the wind out of heavily favored Buford. With a talented team desperately making a comeback, Azar looked to another junior, Holli Wilkins, to make plays and seal the victory.
The win over Buford, Wesleyan's first in three games against its rival, catapulted the Wolves up to No. 30 this week.
Wesleyan also validated Azar's demanding schedule with the win and, with all but one player returning, Azar hopes for an even more difficult schedule next season. She and her Wolves are hoping for a shot at the 2011 Nike Tournament of Champions' Joe Smith Division. In the meantime, the sole departing senior, Baughn, will look for her fourth consecutive state title and the school's eighth since adding athletics in 1997.
-- Chris Hansen
Class 6A powerhouse and the No. 26 ranked team nationally, Hoover (Hoover, Ala.), drew Alabama's top ranked 4A school, Brewbaker Tech (Montgomery, Ala.) in both teams' final regular-season game. Behind the 22 points, 11 rebounds and three assists from junior LSU commit Chardonae Fuqua, the favored team from Hoover snapped Brewbaker Tech's 22-game winning streak with a 69-39 victory. Brewbaker Tech was led by the 16 points and 19 rebounds from sophomore Marques Webb. ... Junior Queen Alford of Decatur (Decatur, Ga.) has eclipsed the 1,000-point barrier, punctuated by her 48-point outburst in a win against Cross Keys (Atlanta, Ga.) on Friday. ... Boone County's (Florence, Ky.) 6-0 junior Sydney Moss, the daughter of Randy Moss, has grabbed over 1,000 career rebounds while totaling more than 1,800 career points. In the Louisville Invitational Tournament last Friday, Moss had 28 points and 14 rebounds in the win over Butler (Louisville, Ky.) with coaches from Louisville, Kentucky and North Carolina State in attendance. ... Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) junior guard Jordan Adams put up a triple-double Tuesday night in the Monarchs' 79-37 win over Rosary. Adams finished with 14 rebounds, 10 points and 10 assists. Teammate Alexas Williamson scored 18 points. ... Sophomore Allisha Gray of Washington County (Sandersville, Ga.) has also eclipsed the 1,000-point barrier thanks to four consecutive games of 40-plus points. She reached 1,032 total points in her team's 81-60 win last Friday. ... Bridget Ryan posted a triple-double for Mount St. Mary Academy (Watchung, N.J.) last Thursday in beating Belvidere (Belvidere, N.J.) 65-47. Ryan poured in 32 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked 12 shots.
-- Rebecca Gray and Prentice Beverly
Just a few weeks ago, Neptune (Neptune, N.J.) and Buford (Buford, Ga.) were a couple of high schools that shared more than the fact that they are named after the towns in which they are located. Climbing as high as fourth and sixth, respectively, in the POWERADE FAB 50 for girls' basketball, both could have been termed dark-horse candidates for a mythical high-school national championship. This week, Neptune and Buford may have relinquished that status for good.
Already lacking a quality win to hold its lofty perch -- Neptune beat Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.), but so have four others, dragging the Royals out of the rankings -- the Scarlet Fliers were thumped by rival Shabazz (Newark, N.J.) in one of the Garden State's made-for-drama showdowns last Friday. Neptune followed that with a three-point squeaker over Trenton Catholic (Trenton, N.J.) during the JFK Challenge in the Bronx, N.Y. Buford, already tagged with one loss, dropped another, 48-37 to Wesleyan (Norcross, Ga.).
The two victors, Shabazz and Wesleyan, rose to 13th and 30th. Shabazz, which improved on Tuesday to 16-0, certainly is in position for a top-10 finish. Neptune, if not title-worthy, still could climb into top-10 contention if it beats Potter's House Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.) in the Bronx on Feb. 13 during an event conducted by the Gauchos club program. On the other hand, with a victory, Potter's House could position itself for the national top spot, should the California trio at Nos. 1-3 knock themselves out during a series of postseason encounters.
Like Neptune and Buford, Start (Toledo, Ohio) a few weeks ago was feeling good about its national prospects. The Spartans were ranked as high as No. 13, but lost twice, last week to Detroit Country Day (Detroit, Mich.). And now they've fallen to No. 28.
Meanwhile, Detroit Country Day; St. John Vianney (Holmden, N.J.), which upset Germantown Academy (Fort Washington, Pa.) but lost by eight to Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.); and Edison (Huntington Beach, Calif.), which upset Troy (Fullerton, Calif.), all jump into the FAB 50. That's how it works, girls and boys. Beat a higher-up, take care of business game after game, and you get your propers. Mess up at the wrong time and, well, there's always state.
-- Glenn Nelson
Records are through Feb. 1, 2011 games, where reported.
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ESPN HOOPGURLZ HS RANKINGS 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.
Rebecca Gray is an intern for ESPN HoopGurlz. She previously wrote a column for the website about her experiences as a freshman on basketball scholarship at the University of North Carolina. She transferred to and played at Kentucky and now plays basketball and golf at Union College. A 5-foot-10, sharp-shooting guard out of Georgetown, Ky., Gray was named Miss Basketball in the state of Kentucky after averaging 25.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.1 steals and 4.8 assists during her senior season at Scott County High School. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.