Breaking down the teams vying for the Geico Nationals girls' high school championship

Kayleigh Heckel and Long Island Lutheran won the Nike Tournament of Champions in December. Can they add a Geico Nationals title? SCNext

The Geico Nationals has a long history of hosting college-bound prospects and some of the most talented girls' high school basketball players in the country. This year's competition, which begins Friday, includes defending champion and top seed Montverde, the No. 3 team in the SCNext Top 25.

The four-team tournament begins with Friday's semifinals at 10:30 a.m. ET and 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU/ESPN App) at Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, Florida. The championship game is Saturday (10 a.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN App).

Before last year, Geico Nationals was the only option for a final national high school event. The pool included the independent programs as well as programs that belong to state federations. With the introduction last year of the State Champions Invitational (April 7-8), the pool of teams for Geico has changed. Past winners Westlake (Ga.) and Central Valley (Wash.) would be SCI participants, not Geico.

We break down the vital information and team analysis for this year's Geico Nationals.

No. 1 seed: Montverde (Fla.)

Coach: Special Jennings
Record: 24-1
Key wins: Duncanville, South Grand Prairie, DeSoto, The Webb School, Long Island Lutheran, Morris Catholic

About Montverde: Coach Jennings put together one of the most challenging schedules in the country for her Montverde squad this season. They boast a high major Division I lineup even beyond their starters and do not lack for talent or size. Point guard Mjracle Sheppard (Mississippi State) sets the tone and has had a stock-rising senior season. She leads Montverde in scoring, assists and steals. Sahnya Jah (South Carolina) averages 10.1 points and 6.1 rebounds and makes dynamic plays on the inside. Rusne Augustinaite (Georgia Tech) and Cori Allen (Illinois) are the main 3-point threats. Lety Vasconcelos (Baylor), at 6-foot-7, anchors the Eagles on the glass and inside defensively. Junior forward Vivian Iwuchukwu comes off the bench to contribute 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Analysis: This team sets the tone defensively and can mix up their aggressive attack with pressure man, half-court zones and presses. The Eagles can really get out on the break quickly. Their size and strength inside are major advantages. Coach Jennings is high-energy and her team matches her intensity. They have a chance to finish atop the SCNext Top 25 rankings with a tournament win at Geico.

No. 2 seed: Long Island Lutheran

Coach: Christina Rati
Record: 21-2
Key wins: Archbishop Mitty, Sidwell Friends, La Jolla Country Day

About LUHI: Coach Rati leads a squad into Geico that is loaded with young players. The Crusaders won the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions in December and that included a couple of top-10 wins. Montverde went to New York in January and defeated LUHI 67-60, so the possible rematch in the Geico final is greatly anticipated.

Analysis: LUHI is a balanced squad that is anchored inside by junior Kate Koval, averaging 14.4 points, 11 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. Junior guards Kayleigh Heckel and Syla Swords do the bulk of the ballhandling and decision making, and shoot 44% and 35.7% from the 3, respectively. Heckel leads the team with 15.6 points per game as well as 5.9 assists. Swords contributes 13.8 points and 4.7 assists per game. Junior forward Ka'Shya Hawkins has had a breakout season and freshman Savannah Swords fills whatever role is needed in any particular matchup with her versatility -- displayed by her 9.6 points per game and 36% 3-point field goal percentage. Junior guard Lauryn Swann has made some key plays for the Crusaders this season and complements the perimeter.

This is a squad that has been in the top 5 all year and, based on the results at Geico, can still make a case for the top spot in the final SCNext Power Rankings.

No. 3 seed: McDonogh (Md.)

Coach: Brad Rees
Record: 24-3
Key wins: Rutgers Prep, South Shore

About McDonogh: Coach Rees and the Eagles had to start the season without their post presence in junior forward Kennedy Ume, but they had plenty of talent and scoring to supplement her absence until her return in mid-December. The Eagles will have to make up for her loss again as Ume will be at a USA Basketball event and won't be playing at Geico.

Analysis: The Eagles will miss Ume's 13.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. G Makaela Quimby (Wake Forest) can launch it from the 3-point line. Anaiah Jenkins (Towson) is a strong wing/forward presence who cleans up the glass and is a versatile defensive presence. G Paris Locke (North Carolina A&T) is best attacking off the bounce and keeping pressure on opponents. Freshman Autumn Fleary is a stock-rising young point guard who may be small, but is quick and has a dynamic game as she pushes the ball, distributes and applies defensive pressure. She led McDonogh in scoring this year (14.6 points per game) as well as overall assists. Junior wing/forward Ava McKennie (Maryland commit) has had a breakout season and uses her length and versatility to bring a little of everything to the floor. This is a very balanced team and they all play their roles very well.

No. 4 seed: Westtown (Pa.)

Coach: Fran Burbidge
Record: 21-4
Key wins: Georgetown Visitation, Shabach Christian

About Westtown: Coach Burbidge has the most unique group in the Geico field. Westtown has Division I signees on the same roster as two of the more promising middle school-age players in the country in W Jordyn Palmer and G Jessie Moses. Palmer has made an early case to be considered as one of the top players in her class thus far. She brings 13.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game as well as shooting 36% on 3-point field goals. G Grace Sundback (Delaware) has a poised and fundamental game and can catch fire from the outside. She leads the team at 40% 3FG and averages 13.2 points per game. Junior G Zahra King is dynamic off the bounce, but may miss the event as she recovers from a nagging injury. Freshman G Atlee Vanesko supplements with ballhandling and perimeter shooting -- she led the team in overall assists this year. Junior Savannah Curry (9.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game) is a wing presence who brings a lot of effort, primarily defensively, but has knack for scoring as well. Westtown will be without Seton Hall signee Joniyah Bland-Fitzpatrick as she was a high school re-classer during the pandemic and is not eligible for Geico competition.

Analysis: This will be a challenge for this predominantly young squad, but they will benefit long term and intend to game-plan accordingly for opponents. They have an experienced staff that will have them ready to compete.