Trenton Catholic Academy (Hamilton, N.J.) fell out of the Powerade Fab 50 earlier this season when it failed to notch wins against the three best teams in the state, losing to St. John-Vianney (Holmdel, N.J.) by seven on New Year's Eve, losing to Neptune (Neptune, N.J.) by three at the JFK Classic, and losing to Shabazz (Newark, N.J.) on January 9 by nine.
However, Trenton Catholic finished strong, winning the non-public state title and rolling into the New Jersey Tournament of Champions with plenty of momentum. The New Jersey TOC set the stage for the Lady Mikes to avenge two of its four losses and as fate would have it, the two were against the teams ranked in the top 12 nationally last week.
With stout defense, Trenton Catholic held then No. 12 Neptune to just 14 first half points in route to a 54-49 victory in the TOC final. The Lady Mikes used the same blueprint to beat then sixth-ranked Shabazz in the semifinal, holding the Bulldogs to just 11 first-half points and weathering the second-half comeback to win 54-44.
Ohio and New Jersey closed out its seasons this past week while California and New York setting the stage for the final showdown.
So what to do with the quartet of Jersey powers? Trenton Catholic has the most losses, going 31-4 on the season, but earning splits with Neptune and Shabazz and winning in the postseason when great teams play their best ball puts Briyona Canty and her Lady Mikes' teammates in the conversation with the top teams in the country.
Shabazz finished an impressive 34-1 with the season split with Trenton Catholic and a convincing 15-point win over Neptune, so the body of work, which also includes an 11-point win over Archbishop Spalding (Severn, Md.), lands the Bulldogs at No. 11. Neptune notched a 12-point TOC semifinal win over St. John-Vianney to temper the season-ending loss to Trenton Catholic, finishing 29-2 and No. 13 in the Fab 50.
In California the finals are set for Arco Arena with No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) having one last test, from No. 34 Berkeley (Berkeley, Calif.), to reclaim the mythical national championship and take the No. 1 spot in the final Fab 50 rankings next week.
Berkeley, on the other hand, has the opportunity to prove that their dominance of Northern California was not simply a product of playing lesser competition as the 29-1 senior-led Yellowjackets look to pull off the upset.
No. 49 Cicero-North Syracuse (Syracuse, N.Y.) plays Murry Bergtraum (Manhattan, N.Y.) for the right to play No. 18 Nazareth in the New York Federation championship next weekend. Led by the No. 1 junior Breanna Stewart, the upstate New Yorkers could prove that national-caliber ball can be played outside New York City.
-- Chris Hansen
Ohio Shaken Up
The Ohio High School Athletic Association championships for Division I gave the teams hovering in the Fab 50 a chance to create some separation.
Twinsburg (Twinsburg, Ohio) came into the state tournament undefeated and ranked No.26 in the Powerade Fab 50 ,and had no intention of letting its perfect season or national ranking slip away. The semifinal win over Pickerington North (Pickerington, Ohio) led the Tigers into Saturday's final with Fairmont (Kettering, Ohio), which surprised everyone but themselves with its upset of Start (Toledo, Ohio) in the other semifinal matchup.
Youth ruled the day in the championship game with only three seniors in uniform on both rosters combined. Malina Howard, the No. 21 prospect in the 2012 class, led the Tigers second half charge as they roared back from a seven-point halftime deficit to claim their first state title 55-42. The 6-foot-3 post, despite being just a junior herself, demonstrated the value of experience and maturity in posting a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds with over half of both totals coming in the third and fourth quarters.
Twinsburg's second-half defensive adjustment, utilizing more zone, limited Fairmont's scoring to just four field goals and 17-percent shooting over the final 16 minutes. Fairmont's freshman forward duo of Mikayla Waterman and Kathryn Westbeld, both 6-1, had everyone in the arena talking. Westbeld posted her own double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds while Waterman offered up 13 points and seven boards in the losing effort.
The Firebirds, 26-2, also feature sophomore perimeter standouts in athletic 5-9 Chelsea Welch and spot-up shooter 5-8 Alona Skipper who, despite struggling in the championship game, should provide the depth to make multiple runs at their own OHSAA title in the future.
Twinsburg elevated itself into the top 20 while Fairmont's strong postseason run earned it a respectable spot in the regional rankings.
-- Mark Lewis
Records are through March 21, 2011 games, where reported.
* denotes a team's season has ended.
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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.